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Video Assistant Referee (VAR) – All A Farce or All Fair Game?

Could continued controversy kill VAR in its infancy?

Chelsea’s Willian goes down in the Norwich box during the third round replay of the FA Cup. Chelsea fans are in uproar, penalty demands echoing their way down to Graham Scott. However, instead of pointing to the spot, Scott reaches to his pocket to show Willian a yellow card. Willian is booked for diving, and fans are in disbelief. With the use of VAR, Graham Scott had the opportunity to have a second opinion from Mike Jones about his original decisions. Despite clear contact the yellow card stood, and no penalty was awarded.

A couple of weeks later, on February 4th, Liverpool welcomed Tottenham to Anfield in a game where VAR was desperately needed. The game ended 2-2, with plenty of controversy surrounding the result. Two penalties were awarded throughout the game, both causing plenty of dispute. Kane was offside before winning himself the first penalty, and questions are being asked of Lamela who won the second. Did he con the referee into giving him that penalty? Jonathan Moss can be heard asking Martin Atkinson if he was able to get anything from the replay screen located at the halfway line despite VAR not being used, according to The Express.

“There is no big screen like in tennis or cricket, and no gesture or call that would signal that the referee is requesting the VAR like in field hockey or rugby.”

Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has been the cause for much of a debate in recent weeks since its introduction to the League Cup and FA Cup. This is all preparation for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, in which VAR is looking to make an appearance. However, over recent weeks and during the games VAR has been used in, confidence in the Video Assistant Referee may not be as strong as originally hoped.

Many familiar faces within the world of football have given their opinions on the matter, with Alan Shearer calling it “a shambles” on BBC Sport during the Chelsea v Norwich FA Cup replay, and Alan Pardew complaining how they (the fans and teams) are “completely in the dark”, according to ABC News, since there is no big screen to show the replay of the incident. And when it comes to the fans of the game, the opinion is divided, with plenty arguing against the suggested equipment, while others can’t understand why it wasn’t been brought in sooner.

“With the use of VAR, could its introduction potentially damage the influence of top flight referees?”

But how will the Football Association combat the teething problems of VAR’s introduction? Such problems were identified as “inevitable” by the FA according to The Sun, but has there been any proof that the FA has attempted to identify the problems as the first step in beginning to fix them? One critique heard about VAR is the length of time it takes to come to a decision. In order to ensure that the decision called is the correct one, the referee behind the replay screen has to have time to look at different angles of the incident.

However, it seems like it is a losing battle for the referees involved. The longer it takes to decide on the correct call, the more restless players, fans, and managers alike become, and the referee begins to feel a certain pressure to conclude their checks at a faster rate. However, forcing the referee to shorten their decision-making time can lead to the wrong decision being made or kept within the game. A second issue voiced by those within the football world: fans, managers, and players are all unable to watch the replay themselves. There is no big screen like in tennis or cricket, and no gesture or call that would signal that the referee is requesting VAR like in field hockey or rugby. Everyone besides the referees are all in the dark regarding what is happening, and what is being asked.

The Video Assistant Referee system could change the way football is played. It could rule out incorrectly given goals and red cards, get the right identity of a player in the case of a foul, end all penalty debates, and crack down on diving in the box – another highly-discussed issue in football. However, while the VAR system can be used to control all these elements of the game, is it possible that the system could become too controlling? There are plenty of opinions that the VAR system will slow down the game, and as Joey Barton told talkSport, “ruin[s] the very essence of football.” Do the negatives outweigh the positives in this instance? With the use of VAR, could its introduction potentially damage the influence of top flight referees? If the Video Assistant Referee is used and goes against an original decision of the on-field referee, would that undermine the referees in future games and pull into question their capabilities to call the right decision in the first place?

The suggestion is there that the Football Association, if they decide to continue with the VAR system, should look to sports that already have similar equipment for their own games such as rugby and field hockey, where the video analysis system is used to enhance the game, rather than hinder. Of course, whenever the system is used to ensure the correct call has been given, the game is slowed and stopped, but does that mean that the excitement is taken out of the sport? Fans remain on the edges of their seats to see if a try is awarded in a game of rugby, and cheers ring out when their hockey team gets a decision in their favour, and a roar echoes around the stadium when the opposition batsman is declared out in cricket. That doesn’t seem like boredom or a lax atmosphere, but instead a rich sense of tension that grips each spectator that longs to know the outcome of the decision.

However, only time will tell what will come of the Video Assistant Referee, and just what improvements may be made in the lead up to the 2018 World Cup. That is if the FA decide to make any improvements before such a prestigious event.

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