Written by Uche Abugu
Acronyms like VAT, hold key words “value” and “added” – but can we say the same of VAR?
First off, let’s try and understand what football really is.
A round leather game that is aesthetically pleasing, easy to play, no win guarantees and with very simple rules. But if the rules were simple, why then do we have VERY ANGRY REACTIONS (VAR)?
Football draws it’s fascination and strength, not from precision, but from errors, odd decisions and magical moments, that leaves us asking for more. IFAB told us VAR will have minimal interference, with maximum results, yet, it’s been largely a show of shame, riddled with even bigger errors. Real Madrid’s coach Zinedine Zidane called it “a source of confusion”, as Gianluigi Buffon the veteran Italian goalkeeper concurred- VAR “makes the game ugly”, and it’s as if footballers are “playing water polo” he said. Apt!
Technology has become inter-twinned with Sports, having been knocking on the door, it has now gotten a foot hold in. It seems with the addition of a new technology, the joy of football dwindles further, but the question remain- do we really want to change the very fabric of the game?
VAR in it’s present form is surely not ready for soccer. The arguments I must say are valid on both sides, but what bothers me most is to the degree this will ruin football. The beleaguered system is dysfunctional in it’s implementation by administrators. Refereeing mistakes are a part of the game, we don’t want it to be 100% correct, as it’s said “one man’s foul, is another’s play on”. Those “for”, will tell you they use it in Tennis, Rugby et al, yet convenient for them, since those sports are played with a lot of stops and starts. Even the slightest pause in football messes up the most critical aspect of the game, exactly what made it the greatest game on earth; now fragmented by subjective calls (though legitimate complaints). This is a game with variable rewards, (away goals with a loss and draws are victories) from a default state of zeros, you have no guarantees. When you finally manage a goal, instead of that moment of release- unbridled joy, nervous energy, fear and the weight of expectations that make you go gaga, you are left looking at the referee and his lieutenants. The above scenario when magnified in the context; time of the game, an underdog, a comeback against all odds, at the dearth, all makes it unquantifiable. (Aguero’s EPL winning goal vs QPR in 2012) Pray tell me if football can really afford the time VAR is asking of it.
The sweat, the glory, the passion and the noise from the stands (Signal Iduna park on my mind) is an integral part of the spectacle. Take this away and you freeze the billions it generates in income. The Bible says- a good spanking won’t kill a child- in same vein, referees getting a few decisions incorrectly cannot ruin the beautiful game, rather, its the money mad, profit driven owners that are doing so. A few incorrect calls rather create “folklores”, appropriating “god-like” status on the protagonists. From generations we have handed down “the hand of god” tale, did it cross the line or not in 1966?, surely these are fantasies this generation now live with. Sir Alex Ferguson once said, Filippo Inzaghi was born off-side. Inzaghi a man that epitomized the dark art of playing on the edge.
There are no objective truths in football, playing on the very edge is what we have come to define as soccer. A recent poll shows that 47% is against VAR, 42% is in favour of it, while 11% decided to be Humpty Dumpty and sat on the fence.
Gianni Infantino and IFAB in their recently concluded meeting, voted unanimously in favour of using VAR during the forth coming world cup in Russia- well I guess we won’t be going home until August, as we have to wait for referees to finish their review of what will ensue Haha! The danger here, on a serious note is that officials that will prosecute the tournament are inexperienced in it’s use, (it’s not every league that is currently using VAR) and this is a recipe for disaster! The reputation of the referees are not left out in this onslaught by VAR. They are already suffering the scorn for every oversight or error, microscopically scrutinised.
Gab Marcotti the knowledgeable pundit and writer of Italian decent, proposed two fundamentals for it’s success – Education (pundits, fans, administrators and player) and a better communication module. (between referees, the review panel and fans in the stadium).Howard Webb has join PRO (Professional Referees Organisation) in MLS, as Manager of Video Assistant Referee Operations, charged with overseeing “the development and education, assessment, and assignment of Video Assistant Referees (VARs) for the Organization”, so it’s no coincidence they have recorded the most success with VAR.
Personally, I recommend a threshold on the number of challenges you can make in a match, to be initiated by the captains and referees ONLY, not the review panel. Secondly, the review panel should be made up of referees, ex-players and ex-referees. Any infringement not spotted by the referees, before a goal is scored by all means should stand and finally a time limit must be established for each review process. IFAB may also need to review certain rules like off-side, to avoid ambiguity, and remove the subjective-ness.
It is probably not surprising that this is a divisive topic, given what is at stake, but however you feel about it, one thing is certain- We love the game. Football is about emotion, and we want to keep those emotions. The fans, players, pundits and coaches are not so happy with what they are seeing at the moment.
feature image credit Evening Standard