VAR: Right or Wrong?

By Conchúr Richards

Video Assistant Referee widely known as VAR is technology that has been in football since 2019. It is a piece of technology that allows a referee in a room away from the stadium to watch replays of incidents within a match and report to the on-field referee with a decision.

It has been widely criticised since coming into both the Premier League in 2020/21 and the Scottish Premier Football League halfway through this season.

VAR can look at a number of incidents that include: handballs, possible red cards, offsides, penalties and infringements in play. This season in particular (up until 5th March 2023), VAR has been involved in 74 on-field decisions in the Premier league and 28 in the Scottish Premiership.

In the Premier League this season, VAR has led to 22 goals being awarded and 31 goals being disallowed as shown in the chart below:

This is in stark comparison to Scotland. VAR has only been in the Scottish Premiership since December and has only contributed to 10 goals and disallowed 13 as highlighted in the chart below:

Many of these decisions have caused controversy. Referees are only shown incidents in one angle and the replay is slowed right down and does not take into account actual match speed. During a Celtic and Aberdeen match this season, Johnny Hayes of Aberdeen was denied a goal after “Impeding” Celtic goal keeper Joe Hart and this caused a great stir amongst Scottish football fans with many calling for a review of the technology.

This has also been the case in the Premier League. Southampton’s Che Adams had a stunning overhead kick overturned against Brighton because he nudged off defender, Lewis Dunk before executing the kick. Southampton are currently in the relegation zone and decisions like this have real world implications for these clubs and VAR decisions may be the difference in staying in the Premier League or being relegated to the championship.

VAR has also been manic on the red card front as well. Many fans in stadiums hate to see the dreaded “Checking…Possible Red Card” appear on the big screens as more often than not it means a player will be sent off. This has been seen especially in the Scottish Premiership with 11 red cards being given due to VAR and only 5 being overturned as the chart below explains:

This is in stark contrast to the Premier League where only 4 red cards have been awarded due to VAR and 3 overturned as seen in the chart below:

Since the 5th March 2023 VAR has overturned a total of 74 on-field decisions in the 2022/23 season. It has led to 22 goals, 31 disallowed goals, 17 penalties being awarded (8 of which were handballs), overturned 9 penalties, issued 1 penalty retake, ruled out 19 goals for offside, awarded 10 goals after an incorrect offside decision, ruled out 2 goals for handball, ruled out 9 goals for a foul in build-up, issued 4 red cards and overturned 3 red cards.

These stats are all well and good but the problem is a lot of these decisions cause controversy and spike real debate. This technology was designed to end the debate as referees could watch these incidents back from a number of angles so as to make an informed decision.

VAR is affecting the outcomes of games as it was supposed to do but it’s still stepped in shame. Many are pondering its removal from the game entirely.

Many want VAR to operate more like the TMO in rugby and it could be successful. Fans I also believe they should be allowed to hear what the referees are saying to one another. If these two things are implemented, football fans would be more accepting of the technology, but, as things stand, we will just have to put up with these contentious decisions and pray that they are not against our teams.

Grassroots football referee, Rory Campbell has expressed his disdain for the current VAR technology. He said, “It’s quite clear that in its current format, VAR just simply isn’t working. Decisions are taking too long and more often than not we are seeing the wrong outcome. It really is unfair to teams, players, coaching-staff and fans. It really feels like the love of the game is being taken away from us.”

He also reinforced how the technology could become better over time by saying, “There is much room for improvement. The VAR official should be at the stadium and not in some room 100 miles away. Decisions should not take the guts of 5 minutes to make and there needs to be more communication between referees and everyone else in the stadium. This won’t happen overnight but, these changes must be considered.”

He also highlighted the difficult role of a referee. “I really do feel for the referees. Here at grassroots level, we don’t have the luxury of technology like VAR but I do understand that in high-pressure moments a referee has a massive decision to make. More can be done to make a referee’s life easier but currently, VAR is doing the opposite.”

VAR is here to stay in the foreseeable future in football. It is apparent that some leagues are getting some aspects of it right but failing at other elements. The Premier League have scheduled a mandatory VAR training course over the summer break for referees, so, only time will tell to see if VAR is technology worth investing in.