In the world of football, few innovations have stirred as much debate as the Video Assistant Referee, commonly known as VAR.

Since its introduction in 2017, this technology has played a significant role in decision-making during football matches. VAR was implemented with the intention of making the game fairer and more precise.

However, its impact on the sport is a contentious subject among fans, players, and officials alike. Is VAR ruining football, or is it an essential addition that ensures justice on the pitch? Let’s delve into the arguments.

How Does VAR Work?

Before we jump into the debate, it’s crucial to understand what VAR is and how it functions. VAR is a technology that aids on-field referees in making decisions. It focuses on four areas: goals, penalties, direct red cards, and cases of mistaken identity. The on-field referee can request a VAR review, and VAR officials, who watch the game remotely, can also suggest the referee re-examine a decision if there is a clear and obvious error.

What does VAR stand for?

VAR stands for Video Assistant Referee. It is a technology that has been implemented in various leagues across the world in an attempt to better officiate games and reduce refereeing mistakes.

Arguments for VAR

1. Enhanced Accuracy in Decisions

One of the most persuasive arguments in favour of VAR is the accuracy it brings to the game. By using video replays and communicating with VAR officials, the on-field referee can make more informed decisions. This is particularly significant in incidents where it is difficult for the referee to see what happened in real time.

2. Fairness and Justice

Fair play is a fundamental aspect of sports. VAR aims to minimise human error and bias, which can otherwise influence the game’s outcome. Fans and teams want results to be determined by skill and strategy, not by a controversial decision that could have been corrected with the help of technology.

3. Accountability and Transparency

The use of VAR means that decisions can be scrutinized post-match. This brings greater accountability for referees and transparency in decisions, potentially reducing match-fixing allegations or bias.

Arguments Against VAR

1. Disruption of the Game’s Flow

Critics of VAR argue that the technology disrupts the natural flow of the game. Football is renowned for its continuous, fast-paced nature. VAR reviews can take several minutes, which not only slows down the game but can also break the concentration and momentum of players.

2. Emotional Impact

Football is a game that thrives on emotions. The raw joy of a goal or the despair of a near-miss creates an unforgettable atmosphere. Critics believe VAR can dampen these emotions. For instance, players and fans might restrain their celebrations until they know a goal will not be disallowed after a VAR review.

3. Subjectivity and Inconsistency

While VAR is meant to reduce errors, the interpretation of video footage is still subjective. Different VAR officials might make different calls on the same incident. This leads to accusations of inconsistency, which is one of the issues VAR was meant to address in the first place.

The Middle Ground?

VAR has its merits and drawbacks. Perhaps the answer lies in refining the system. This might include setting clearer guidelines for VAR officials, streamlining the communication process with the on-field referee, and finding ways to minimize disruptions to the game.

VAR Howlers

No technology is perfect, and over the years, there have been some spectacular VAR blunders. Below we take a deeper look at some of the biggest howlers.

Mario Lemina’s ‘handball’ against Tottenham

VAR’s ambiguous regulations concerning handball incidents came to the forefront in March 2021 during a match between Fulham and Tottenham at Craven Cottage, which saw Tottenham edge out a 1-0 victory.

Josh Maja seemed to have netted a perfectly valid goal for Fulham, but the goal was disallowed due to a decision that Mario Lemina had handled the ball earlier in the play.

While technically, there was contact with Lemina’s hand, it was hard to argue that Fulham had reaped any significant advantage from this, considering that the ball was struck forcefully towards Lemina from a mere five yards away, and his arms were positioned close to his body.

Diogo Jota Dive

Another issue with VAR is that incidents that occur on the field are either black or white. There is very little room for context.

This particular problem was highlighted when Liverpool were awarded a penalty in their 3-1 victory at Selhurst Park after Diogo Jota went down in the penalty area under contact from Crystal Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita.

After initially waving away appeals, the referee reversed his decision after a trip to the pitchside monitor despite replays visibly showing that the contact was initiated by the Portuguese forward.

VAR is the Pits

Wolves midfielder Joao Moutinho was left bewildered after being penalized for a handball in his team’s close 1-0 loss to Manchester City at Etihad Stadium in the previous season.

As he raised his arms, a cross from Bernardo Silva hit the Portuguese player. However, upon reviewing the replays, it was evident that the ball had made contact with Moutinho’s armpit area.

Wolves’ manager Bruno Lage expressed his displeasure with the decision during a post-match interview.

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VAR rules no handball on Rodri

“Even a three-year-old could tell you that should have been a penalty,” lamented Everton manager Frank Lampard, following his team’s 1-0 loss to Manchester City in the previous season.

During an attempt to control a loose ball in the penalty box, it seemed that Rodri made contact with the ball using his arm, which was positioned outside his natural silhouette. Despite this, the appeals from Everton for a penalty were dismissed.

This decision was underscored by the fact that Liverpool finished a mere point behind Manchester City in the race for the Premier League title. The potentially game-changing decision favoured Manchester City during a critical juncture in the season.

In conclusion, whether VAR is ruining football or not is subjective and depends on one’s perspective. What is clear, however, is that the system, in its current form, has room for improvement. Through ongoing refinement and feedback from all stakeholders, VAR has the potential to evolve into a tool that retains the spirit of football while upholding justice and fairness.