VAR: A blessing or a curse?

For decades referees in football were forced to rely on instinct and the power of their own eye sight alone. With the turn of the century, early 2000’s the game of football started to change immensely. The strikers now run more, hanging on the shoulders of the back line of the opposing team, making it harder to make offside calls. The game itself is played faster, precisely 20% faster than it was played in 2007. On average a referee must make a decision every 12 seconds according to the guardian, and this has made it incredibly hard for referees to get every decision right. Even though the success rate of making right calls is somewhere around 90% in the premiere league, the governing body of football FIFA sought to take this up to a 100% with VAR.

Introduced officially in the champions league knockout stages this year, the modern technology was one of the highlights of the world cup. With the use of VAR 455 incidents were reviewed during the world cup and 20 of these were called, with 98.35% decisions altering the course of the match and labeled as correct decisions. In the first two years of testing, VAR has been officially used in 4 of Europe’s top 5 leagues with the exclusion of the premiere league. According to a report by BBC VAR has been accurate in 98.9% of the decisions called through the technology so far, compared with the 93% correct decision rate made by referees without VAR. Analyzing these stats leaves us to ponder upon the more pressing question, is VAR a blessing or a curse?

Critics of VAR state that the technology slows the game down and takes away the beauty of uncertainty from the game. I myself was a critic of this technology for two years, especially after seeing it in action in the world cup. Since every single incident can be replayed through the virtual referee, defenders are forced to play at their 100% best in every single game without making a single error. Realistically, this is not possible. This was most evident in United’s away win against PSG in the champions league last week. Presnal Kimpembe, who had a good game until the decision, caught the ball with his arm as he jumped to defend Dalot’s shot on goal. The decision was lauded as controversial because it was unclear whether Kimpembe intended to stop the ball with his arm. Even so, it was in the dying stages of the game when defenders tend to come under pressure and make mistakes that the decision was given. Footballers are human, with the advent of VAR, they are expected to become machines playing at their 100% best in every game. Thirdly, even with the use of VAR the decision to give a call in one team’s favor still lies on a human being deciding, after reviewing the incident. Due to this the accuracy of VAR can never be a 100%, keeping that in mind, do the benefits outweigh the cons of this new technology?

Well the answer is yes, and Buffon will most likely agree with me after that horrendous champions league quarter final against Real Madrid, where Ronaldo scored a late controversial penalty to give Los Blancos the win. Many can argue that Kimpembe should have been sent of in the first leg of the tie after already accumulating a yellow card for a rough challenge on Rashford. The rules regarding the use of VAR did not allow the challenge to be reviewed, upon which the PSG defender would surely have been sent off. Moving on, in numerous instances across all domestic and international competitions this season the virtual assistant has been of great help to the officials. For assistants, verifying offside calls has never been easier. Penalty decisions can be reviewed, fouls looked upon again in the penalty box making the referee’s job easier. While all these match officials train day in day out to make sure they can keep up with the pace of the game, make the right calls and give the right sentences, the fact remains that they are after all humans. A little technology to aid them in their jobs can’t hurt anybody. I look back at some of the innovations introduced in the game over the years with the arrival of curved goal posts, chipped player boots and goal-line technology and am left to wonder, when has technology ever proved to be a curse on this sport?

The premiere league plans to introduce VAR into the league next season, giving the final call to the Virtual assistant referee himself with the in-game referee not allowed to leave the field to review a decision. This could prove to be a smart move and an answer to criticism about slowing the game down. Furthermore, with the use of this new technology, players will be forced to play better, train better and be more cautious in the dying minutes of the game, and the way I see it, it’s a win-win for everyone.

By: Ahson Riaz.

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