Video Assistant Referee howlers and protracted checks are not just robbing clubs of vital points but supporters of pure enjoyment, writes our columnist Laura Lawrence.Embed from Getty Images
It’s time to talk about the thing that nobody wanted. The thing that is often incomprehensible and can cost you more, based on the decisions it makes. No, I’m not talking about our new prime minister, I’m talking about the almost universally despised VAR.
The weekend’s results, not for the first time, were dominated by questionable VAR decisions only this time it was different. The referees’ body PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited) felt the need to publicly say it will cooperate with the Premier League with “ongoing assessment of weekly performances and the development of its match officials going forward.”
The two incidents that PGMOL accept were incorrect are the 90th-minute equaliser West Ham scored against Chelsea and Newcastle United’s goal against Crystal Palace. It’s very early in the season to say this but for a team in the Hammers’ position every point counts.Embed from Getty Images
VAR was never going to be like DRS (Decision Review System) in cricket or Hawkeye in tennis. It’s not even goal-line technology where there is a right or wrong answer. It’s either in or it isn’t. VAR was always going to rely on one human deferring to another bunch of humans for an interpretation of the laws of the game. This is where the frustration lies. Humans are fallible.
But are referees abdicating responsibility through fear of getting decisions wrong now? VAR seems to be leading refs by the nose. The belief was that VAR was to be used for contentious issues. The “clear and obvious errors” or “serious missed incidents.” Doesn’t feel like that anymore, does it?
The Premier League website describes VAR with the caveat that it “will not achieve 100 per cent accuracy, but will positively influence decision-making and lead to more correct, and fairer, judgements.”
VAR aficionado, ESPN journalist Dale Johnson, believes VAR is having an effect on trust in referees and let’s face it, they normally bear the brunt of supporter’s dissatisfaction and paranoia at the best of times. Fans would sacrifice less ‘fairness’ for the return of spontaneous celebrations over protracted silence waiting for endless decision-making.
Most fans accept that refereeing decisions tend to even themselves out over season. What they want is entertainment, joy, the ability to celebrate a goal in the moment not when a man hundreds of miles away, in a box, decides whether a player’s shoulder is offside.
VAR itself isn’t a bad concept but interpretation of rules down to its minutiae is fraught with anger and retribution.Embed from Getty Images
PGMOL’s continuous assessment of the implementation of VAR doesn’t factor in enjoyment. VAR was supposed to reduce refereeing mistakes, which it has done for the most part, but the spirit of the game and the spirit of the rules are not drawn in straight lines across a video screen. The current implementation of VAR is at times unwatchable. Clubs can’t afford for supporters to be turned off.
Follow Laura on Twitter @YICETOR