VAR, the Premier League, and global football

VAR, Referee sign
VAR, Referee sign

The Premier League and its media pundits keep attacking VAR as often on their own as in the guise of standing up for their fans, and so do as if their criticism would cause FIFA to change the global game to accommodate them. I don’t think we can do that, can we? So let’s just address VAR period. 

VAR is only as good or flawed as the humans who must manage it. What it offers, in spades, is the ability to review, which our sport only had previously with goal-line technology. Yes, there needs to be a broader number of reviewable plays—the no-call that should have been a yellow or red, the repetitive strategic fouling that some refs seem unable to spot, the rugby tackles in the penalty area during crosses into the box, the fouls away from the play that inhibit the play developing, when a player kicks the ball out of bounds with ferocity and it just so happens to nearly hit the opposition’s coach (Van Gaal in Qatar), the awarded foul that never should have been awarded or should have been called on the opposing party instead, and most importantly we need a timely, transparent sharing of the same video angles the refs used to make their decisions and in real-time. 

But what needs to be done foremost is applying the rules of the game as they now stand in FIFA’s Laws of the Game, which is allegedly what FIFA referees are supposed to be following.

I would love to see the part of the rules—and I have looked unsuccessfully—that says what fouls are deemed “enough” to be called and which are “not enough” to be called. Or, where it says that a player can use his arms and/or hands to push, slap, or grab an opponent. Or where it says that when jumping to head a ball your elbows must fly outwardly and then violently back as opposed to simply to the side (outwardly) as one does while trying to maintain balance.

Or where it says you can hug an opponent in the box during a corner kick. Or where it says a team that is behind 0-2 or more may be allowed by the ref to get away with unsportsmanlike behavior for the remainder of the match so as to balance the scales with the team that has outplayed them to be ahead 2-0. Or where it says that it is ok for an opponent to stomp on your foot because he mistimed his lunge for the ball.

In nearly 20 years of playing our sport, my timing was never that bad, and I stopped playing over 20 years ago—and they say athleticism has improved—ha!

So how about using VAR to spot and call all of those above-mentioned infractions? Maybe that would improve our sport, no? Maybe, also, when the best player in the world enjoys having yellow cards awarded to anyone who sneezes within ten yards of him, VAR, at least at a World Cup (no?) should step in and just say: “Now-now, we are playing a sport with rules that apply to everyone equally, pibe.”

We might not be able to do anything about the unrelenting sale of our sport to the highest bidder by FIFA’s unscrupulous leadership—though hopefully we learned from Qatar 2022 and will not indulge Saudi Arabia 2030—but at least the sport on the pitch should be played following the sports’ rules and VAR’s job should be to improve our referees’ ability to do that. I for one feel it is doing that to a much greater extent than it is detracting from that ability.

But maybe there should be an application of say, AI, to the VAR wherein that team of refs in the room gets split into specific infraction-searching roles and then is fed the information needed to review the infractions mentioned above in real time—you know the “did he trip him in the box or not” ref who simply applies the rules, skipping the “enough of a foul” concept and using technology to rule in or out if there has been intervening, impeding contact. Or the “how many strategic fouls in a row is that, Gavi” ref, whose job it is to suggest a second yellow for the seventeenth consecutive called foul since the first was awarded.

Ok, enough tongue in cheek, let’s improve VAR, let’s give it the added tools it needs and the broad mandate to check all a ref on the field has missed. Then let’s ensure we, the fans, get to see what the VAR folks see when they are making their decisions and see it at the same time they are seeing it.

Photo: VAR referee sign, Shutterstock ID: 1345161038, by Wind Awake.

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