09 July 2018 – Video Assistant Referee or as it is more commonly known as VAR, continues to divide opinion among football enthusiasts, coaches, players, officials and administrators.

“This topic was discussed and debated for decades. VAR is good for football and good for refereeing, it brings more fairness in the game and, for these reasons, we have decided to approve VAR”, said FIFA President Gianni Infantino on official approval of the system.

The on-going World Cup in Russia has displayed the system for the world to see and showcased both positive and negative aspects, as everyone continues to praise or scrutinize to system with fine tooth combs.

My own personal opinion is just as divided which in essence allows me to offer an objective viewpoint and dissect both positive and negatives of the VAR system as a whole.

VAR Positives

The first major positive that can be given some serious kudos is the fact that it is actually being utilized and at the highest level too. Whereas the likes of cricket and rugby have been employing similar referral technologies, football has been lagging behind in this regard and taken too long to instate any sort of system. It’s the modern era after all.

It pains to wonder just how many critical decisions were made in which match officials got it totally wrong, particularly in marquee tournaments and games, thus ruining careers, legacies and influencing proceedings in the wrong manner. World cup final results could have been far different if technology was in play, in terms of penalties, mistaken identities, off-sides, red cards issued and other similar such circumstances.

Goal-line technology comes in to play here as well. How many balls have crossed the line in huge fixtures (Frank Lampard in 2010 is the best example) and the goal was not given? How many did not pass the line and the goal was indeed given? Some serious food-for-thought!

Secondly, it does seem that the majority of correct decisions are indeed being made due to the system. The current World Cup has seen wrong decisions being overturned due to the technology. At the end of the day, referees are mere human beings and are bound to get things wrong in the moment and need all the assistance that they can get (no more ‘Hand of God goals’). A few more replays/views on the monitor are worth it if the correct calls are going to be made.

This protects referees and I am sure there will be far less death threats going forward, as we have seen in the past. Match officials are in essence afforded a ‘second chance’ which is the fair thing to do.

Thirdly, the entertainment aspect. This is one point that shouldn’t be underestimated. A referee stopping the match in order to review a vital call (especially in terms of penalties or a possible goal being scored), creates an immediate buzz around stadiums and tension at home in front of the television set.

A referral creates drama and suspense especially with both sets of fans. The anxious wait is what adds a different dimension to the beautiful game.

Infantino also stated: “We can see in the matches, where the game is being interrupted, this creates an additional moment of tension where everyone is waiting”.

VAR Negatives

Yes the system is much welcomed and its overall implementation is probably for the betterment of the game and seems here to stay. However, it can most definitely be improved and does have a few teething problems.

The first and probably biggest negative of VAR is the ‘time’ aspect. ‘Minimum interference for maximum impact’ was supposed to be the mantra when the system first launched but is this truly the case?

As alluded to above, the system is long overdue and the main reason for this is that the powers that be did not want matches to be slowed down or interrupted. Bodies were against halting the flow of the game and one can see why. As much entertainment as it provides, the stop in play can also be a tad annoying. In some instances, a referral takes far too long to be ratified and celebrations have to be put on hold, especially for match winning goals.

“It takes the excitement out of football; players don’t hug each other after scoring a goal any more, instead they look straight towards the referee. It’s removing the adrenaline and my enjoyment of football,” Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi complained.

Perhaps a time limit can be introduced so that referees will be pushed to make quick decisions. All it takes is a couple of replays in order to get the correct decisions.

Secondly, even with VAR, decisions could still be subjective. The referee making the call, even after or while viewing replays, could interpret the situation in a different way to other referees. Hence, there is no clear cut method of arriving at certain decisions.

Thirdly, the human element (which was a huge part of why the game is fun), is now reduced. An incorrect off-side call (due to plain and simple human error) by the linesman that resulted in the winning goal or indeed prevented the winning goal, caused debate among fans in bars and pubs or on the way home after the game, and this is now somewhat taken out of the equation with the advent of VAR.

The system is trying to make things ‘perfect’, no better than a PlayStation video game and is that really good for the sport? It somewhat kills the romance of football doesn’t it?

In conclusion, the jury is still out and for every positive that VAR offers, there seems to be a negative to go along with it. Even in years or decades to come there will never be consensus. I am personally still on the fence but can definitely see how it can be good for the game in terms of fairness (even though an extra coast is now involved in rolling it out). For now, you make up your own mind.

By: Dhirshan Gobind