One of the arguments against the implementation of the Video Assistant Referee system is that it will deprive managers, commentators and supporters of the opportunity to complain about bad refereeing decisions – or, perhaps more accurately, perfectly good refereeing decisions that they don’t agree with.
But with all the hand-wringing over several controversial VAR-related incidents in recent domestic cup matches, it doesn’t appear as if ire at officiating is going to dissipate any time soon.
Some will take that as proof that the system is a waste of time.
If increased accuracy isn’t going to quieten the babbling hordes of pundits and fans who love nothing more than questioning an official’s ability or integrity, then why bother slowing down the game with video replays?
Which is a fair observation, of course. But it rather misses the point: VAR doesn’t exist simply in order to get a few extra decisions right. It’s there because referees can’t take the abuse any more.
And could you blame them? In the era of social media and 24-hour sports news, there’s no longer any hiding from the lunatic fringe of football support and media. Seemingly every club has its hard-core of overzealous conspiracy theorists who are convinced that their team is being victimised by an underground sect of illuminati-refs led by Mike Dean. This band of self-appointed martyrs will spend hours each day digging into the stats to find evidence to back up their wild, Pizzagate-influenced theories.
Even less shut-in fans are prone to outbursts of hatred and contempt for referees. Who hasn’t screamed ‘there was contact!’ or ‘no intent there! You absolute pr*ck!’ after a 50-50 call went against their side? It’s hard not to get frustrated at a bad decision, but that’s no excuse for the level of abuse and harassment referees receive online, from the sideline, in the stands and in the media.
Football is incredibly subjective, and referees do an exceptionally difficult job.
Even after hours, days or sometimes weeks of analysis, a lot of incidents don’t become any clearer in terms of decision-making. So why not help referees out a bit? VAR won’t result in every decision being correct – it’s virtually impossible for 100% accuracy to be achieved given the often nebulous nature of the rules and how easy it is to interpret them in different ways.
But that doesn’t mean VAR should be abandoned simply because it slows things down slightly.
VAR is here because a lot of fans can’t control themselves, and because the media can’t resist the facile ‘talking-point’ of a dodgy red-card or a missed offside. And let’s not even get started on those post-match interviews with managers…
Either we all collectively stop focusing on refereeing mistakes, or we accept that VAR is here to stay. The officials are easy targets for the game’s cowards looking to shift the blame onto someone else – if video replays reduce those people’s voices within football, the sport will be vastly better off.
There’s no denying VAR has its flaws at the moment.
But as has been seen in Serie A, once those flaws are ironed out – which may take months, even years – it can lead to some unexpected benefits. Actual playing time has increased, and because the players know they are being watched, the number of fouls has dropped significantly. There is also a marked decline in players protesting decisions.
More importantly, perhaps: how are we to know VAR is worth it unless we give it a chance? Maybe in two or three years’ time we’ll know that it’s a pile of sh*te and won’t have any problems chucking it out. But maybe it’ll be a success, and we’ll no longer have to put up with Angry Twitter Man moaning about how Anthony Taylor cost his team the league in 2014 by not giving that 94th-minute penalty.