VAR: What’s all the fuss about?

Written by Sam Day, Marketing Manager, VIRTUS Published 2019-11-14 10:34:48

If you follow English football at all, you won’t have escaped the new buzzword in your sporting lexicon– VAR or Video Assistant Referee. Even if you don’t follow the game, you have probably heard the heated debates of football fans discussing this latest bit of technology to make its way into the modern football game.

The world’s footballing bodies have toyed with the idea of VAR for a few years, and on the eve of the new Premier League season this August, it seemed as though the English Football Association had finally caught up with its counterparts from the world of tennis, cricket and rugby – all of whom have been using similar technology for some years.

Two months on and footballing news has been dominated by headlines bemoaning VAR decisions - or lack thereof. A key criticism of the current system is the delay between an on-field incident and the VAR decision being confirmed – how it ruins the tempo of the game, takes away the jubilation celebrating a goal scored and diminishes the experience of watching in the stadium.

Too often this season, fans sat in grounds up and down the country on matchday have been left bewildered as to what VAR is actually checking, what the delay is all about, and, why decisions have been made. In tennis, the umpire, the crowd and the TV audience can, in unison see what’s happening on a large screen, and nobody can argue with the decision. In rugby, the conversations between the referee and the video referee are clear for all to hear, and once again, everyone trusts that the system is working efficiently.

So, what’s behind this delay?

You can rest assured it’s not the technology itself. No matter where a Premier League game is being played, VAR is always based in Stockley Park, on the outskirts of London.

So far there have been no issues with latency between the stadium the match is being played in, and the VAR studio, with communications instant and video replays being available to the extra officials in real-time. The technology that underpins VAR has functioned perfectly well with the fast demands of the modern game. And save for a brief loss of audio chatter (due to a faulty headset), we’ve had no lapses in communication between the on-field officials and those charged with casting a beady eye over proceedings in Stockley Park.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the rest of the system – the human portion. It’s not been uncommon to see accusations levelled at the footballing authorities of poor planning in the implementation of VAR, and it’s easy to see why. Perhaps the lack of clarification on who has the final decision on in-play incidents is the main reason for the delays? Do the on-field referees have absolute authority or do the VAR officials have the ability to overrule the original decisions? It seems fans, pundits and indeed sometimes the officials themselves are not always entirely clear.

Although it certainly is early days in terms of video technology being implemented into English football, there’s certainly some way to go before people using the systems can keep up with the technology itself.

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