Opinion: In defence of VAR

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Second year History student, Henry Edwards, writes a passionate defence of VAR after its introduction to English football. This article does not represent the views of Epigram Sport and if you want to write an article in response feel free to get in touch.

Match of the Day’s Alan Shearer labeled it a “shambles.” Veteran commentator John Motson called it “a farce.” Football365’s John Nicholson has gone so far as to claim “it will leave a permanent scar” in the very fabric of the game we adore. The subject in discussion is, of course, VAR (Video Assistant Referees), which has only recently been introduced to English football for the first time.

For “clear and obvious” errors, VAR has the capacity to overturn an in-game decision from any one of the four officials. Referees can use the technology to check the validity of each goal, and assist decisions regarding penalty awards and straight red cards. So far, VAR has only been active in certain FA and League Cup games, but has already churned up quite the reaction. So what’s all the fuss about?

The argument against VAR is essentially one born out of a romantic adherence to tradition; these self-proclaimed ‘football purists’ believe that the soul of football is under-threat, and that the removal of controversy risks robbing the beautiful game of its appeal. In their minds, football should be a game in which, once the final whistle is blown, managers and fans alike can find solace in defeat by brutally lambasting the referee for a mere human error of judgment.

I accept that VAR may be flawed in its specific integration into individual games. This was evident in West Brom’s recent FA Cup victory over Liverpool, in which VAR was consulted three times in one half. Despite the fact that it led to the correct decision each time, it was condemned due to excessively lengthy consultation periods. But doubters need to appreciate that these are teething problems. As it gradually gains momentum, the process of reviewing decisions with technological assistance should become fast, natural and, crucially, fair.

Rather than a threat to the game, VAR represents football’s ticket out of the dark and into the light. Our weekends have become tarnished by incessant barking at referees, including claims such as those made by Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger about Mike Dean. The manager brandished the referee “a disgrace” for awarding the opposition a late penalty in his team’s draw at West Brom. The accusation was that Dean behaved dishonestly, when in fact he was a man trying to do his job and made a difficult and immediate decision.

We can’t have it both ways. We cannot cry about refereeing ‘injustices’ when one decision goes against us, and yet also say that frequent ‘injustice’ represents the untouchable soul of the game.

Hopefully with the reduction of controversy that should come with VAR, football managers and fans can actually start looking at genuine reasons behind their shortcomings, such as – oh, I don’t know – tactics, rather than blaming the odd human lapse in judgment.

The linesman who missed Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in 1986, died last year. The Bulgarian’s life was, in his own words, “ruined” by the Argentine, following a torrent of death threats from ‘passionate’ English followers. Referees are real people. We need to accept that the ‘soul of football’ shouldn’t reside within the verbal abuse they suffer.

Those vehemently against VAR presumably condemned the introduction of goal-line technology, or indeed the arrival of foreign players to the English game, or perhaps the implementation of the familiar offside rule in 1925. To them, football, warts and all, is sacred and needs to be unspoiled from even the slightest touch. Change scares some people, and VAR has the most blinkered fans hiding behind the sofa.

Featured image: talkSPORT / Twitter


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