VAR will not solve football’s old problems

In theory, VAR is a system which every fan wants; a way of helping match-officials overturn obvious errors they might have missed.

Although, VAR in its current state is far from ideal.

Decisions are more controversial than ever and VAR has been creating its own problems The debate over controversial decisions will not end with the current use of VAR.

VAR controlling officiating

VAR is inadvertently controlling how football matches are being refereed.

Linesman are keeping their flags down for offside decisions and referees are falling back on VAR to make decisions for them, especially for infractions in the penalty area.

These infractions called by referees through VAR are soft and oblivious to any fan watching in the stands.

Handballs in the penalty area are being given when the ball hits a player’s hand from less than 3-yards. Australia’s penalty against Denmark in the 2018 World Cup Group Stage is a classic example.

The rules around handball are being changed for the 2019/2020 Premier League season, but other soft infringements in the penalty area are still being given.

Diving is still an epidemic.  

The practice is being encouraged by managers, with forwards and defenders falling over to try and force the referee to make a decision or go to VAR for a chance at a penalty or to reverse a goal.

Gianluca Scamacca’s disallowed goal in the U20 World Cup Semi-Final between Italy and Ukraine is a heinous example of VAR intrusiveness.

The injury-time winner was disallowed due to an apparent elbow on Ukraine defender Valerii Bondar.

Bondar went down under soft contact and the goal was still wrongfully overturned. For me, the apparent elbow was not “clear and obvious.”

Clear and Obvious – a subjective term expecting objective results

The term “clear and obvious” is used as a common sense measure for the VAR to review a decision with the referee.

On paper, the term is useful and allows the game to flow without VAR constantly being used. Despite these good intentions, the term has caused constant problems.

Gareth Southgate spoke about the term last-year, when England drew 1-1 with Italy in a World Cup warm-up match in controversial fashion. 

“I don’t think with incidents like that VAR will clear things up.”

“For me, the two things [about VAR] are whether it is ‘clear and obvious’ and to have a better way of communicating what has happened and why for the spectators in the stadium.”

Southgate is right in his assessment. VAR over-turned and undermined the original from the referee, which was not a clear mistake.

Undermining the on-field referee in this manner will lead to more gamesmanship from players.  

Crowding around the referee and linesman to try and influence whether VAR should be used will become commonplace.

Even with the “clear and obvious” caveat, the examples covered already are anything but.

VAR is leading to soft play and gamesmanship on the pitch whilst taking the positive emotions off it.

Can we celebrate a goal now?

With the prospect of VAR being overused, the spontaneous outburst of emotion from celebrating a goal will be taken away.

Callum Wilson highlighted this problem in an interview with Sky Sports.

Wilson pointed out that soft goals being reversed after a long period of review is anti-climactic for players and supports.

The delays for offside goals are long and if certain stadiums do not have video replay facilities, supporters in the stadium are left none the wiser.

It will be unsurprising if players refrain from celebrating goals due to VAR going beyond the “clear and obvious “definition and allowing soft decisions on the pitch.

For me, VAR’s teething problems are unsurprising, I have seen them already in other sports.

I Have Seen These Problems Before

In ice hockey, VAR has been used for a number of years and it is still not solving contentious in-games decisions.

Both ice hockey and football are fast-paced team sports, where officials can easily miss fouls or infractions which can disallow a goal.

Similar to soft fouls in football, goaltender interference in ice hockey has led to inconsistent refereeing decisions being made.

Goaltender interference is used to disallow a goal if the goaltender is stopped for making a save.

Even with the use of VAR, the calls for goaltender interference are inconsistent and are ruining the fan experience at the match.

Ice hockey fans have no idea how goaltender interference will be decided and hockey fans are frustrated, in a similar way that football fans don’t know how contact in the penalty area will be called.

In most games, Scamacca’s goal for Italy U20’s would stand.

VAR will not end controversy in football as advertised in the media. If used properly, the system can help referees but as supporters have seen already seen, the system is becoming intrusive and is having too much of a negative impact on football.

Already during the Women’s World Cup and the Nations League, VAR has dominated the headlines due to controversial decisions, which is against the very intention of the system. It is “clear and obvious” to football fans that FIFA needs a rethink when it comes to the use of VAR.

What are your thoughts on this? Let us know in the comments below!