How VAR is sucking out the joy in Premier League games

The negative effect of VAR in the Premier League
ES
By Ernest Sunday

The English Premier League is one of the most loved leagues globally, with sports fans worldwide watching their favourite EPL teams and players, but things are changing since the introduction of VAR.

In a bid to avoid the mistakes made by referees during football matches, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) in 2016 brought up the idea of VAR.

The technical director of the International Football Association Board (IFAB), David Elleray, said during the VAR approval in 2016 that VAR will be used at a minimal so as not to affect the pace of the games.

"The time has come for the debate to be based on evidence,” David Elleray said, "Everyone agreed that we needed to see if it works and whether or not it benefits the game. 

"The initial testing will deliberately have a limited focus to minimize the impact of the flow and emotions which are crucial to football.” 

In November 2018, the Premier League agreed to join other leagues to introduce the VAR technology ahead of 2019/2020 Premier League season.

Since the introduction of VAR in the Premier League 2019/2020 season, it has negatively affected some EPL teams while others can be said to have been favoured by it.

There are many instances where Premier League team coaches and fans alike talked about how VAR decisions went against them in matches.

The Video Assistant Referee technology is sucking out the joy of the game in the English Premier League. It slows down the game, with too many calls, checks. What makes it even harder is the inconsistency in the final decisions.

Football is a fast game. A game of passion. It is more enjoyed by human eyes than using assistive technologies.

History of VAR and the technology behind it

The video assistant referee, VAR, was created by Hawk-Eye Innovations, owned by Sony under the Royal Netherlands Football Association's direction, KNVB.

It is aimed to correct many on-field officiating errors encountered in football matches. It is to assist referees in making the right decisions. It brings the referee a bigger picture of events in the game using 360 camera technologies.

The match officiating system consists of Video Assistant Referees (VAR), an assistant Video Assistant Referee (AVAR) and replays operator (RO) who watches matches in a video operation room (VOR).

The Video Assistant Referee, VAR, was first tested through mock in 2012/2013 season of Netherlands' top football league Eredivisie before it was approved by The International Football Association Board (IFAB) in 2016 after reading a petition from KNVB.

The Video Assistant Referee's first live trial was in a friendly match between PSV and FC Eindhoven in 2016.

It was first used in England in November 2017 in a friendly match between the England national team and Germany. The Video Assistant Referee, VAR, was first used at club side in an FA Cup tie between Brighton and Crystal Palace in January 2018.

In November 2018, the English Premier League approved the Video Assistant Referee, VAR. It was first introduced in the 2019 Premier League season in a match between Liverpool and Norwich on August 9, 2019.

The roles of VAR

The VAR teams are meant to check all human errors made by referees on the pitch. The VAR team has the right to call back referees at the sight of any error in a match.

The errors the Video Assistant Referee team checks include:

  1. Goal or no goal
  2. Penalty or no penalty
  3. Direct red card or no direct red card
  4. Mistaken Identity

1. Goals or no goals

Getting the offside track accurately is one of the reason for the introduction of VAR

The VAR's roles in goals or no goals are to check for any foul, handball, offside or ball out of play before a goal was scored. The moment the ball enters the net, VAR officials will check and replay the events leading to goal to see if the goal should be ruled out.

2. Penalties or no penalties

Penalties have been left for VAR to check to help the onfield Referee's decision

When an incident or foul happens within the 18-yard box that might look to be a penalty, the VAR checks to aid the Referee's decision, the referee can watch the replays and decide whether a penalty should be awarded or overruled.

Var also decides penalties for the referee. This is one part of VAR that looks weird.

VAR also decides penalties during a match leaving the referee with fewer decisions to make

3. Direct red card or no direct red card

VAR can overturn a direct red card decision from the match referee.

VAR also checks if there is any offence from an opponent that deserves a direct card. VAR also has the power to overturn any direct red card decision from the referee.

4. Mistaken Identity

The VAR calls the referee back when he has mistakenly given a card to the wrong player.

Problems of using VAR in football matches

Even though the introduction of video assistant referee, VAR, was to ensure that every clear officiating errors by referees are corrected, it has not been the case.

The problems of using VAR technology includes:

  1. Inconsistency in decision making
  2. Wrong decisions
  3. Lack of transparency
  4. Slows down the game and reduces confidence
  5. Reduces the passion of the games

1. Inconsistency in decision making

Even though the Video Assistant Referee, VAR, was introduced to correct many human errors in matches, it has been frowned upon for not being consistent.

For instance, an event that led to a penalty in match A after being checked by VAR sometimes gets overruled in match B. This inconsistency is worrying, and certain clubs seems to be favoured by VAR.

Manchester United have had 32 penalties since 2018/2019 season to date. At the same time, the rest of the league averaged 13.1 penalties. Manchester United have also had the highest number of penalties since the introduction of VAR.

On another call, Arsenal has had the highest number of Red cards this season. Most of the red cards are justified, but David Luiz's red against Wolves looked very soft.

There are many other incidents where errors that led to a penalty in a certain game gets overruled by the referee or VAR in other games.

2. Wrong calls and decisions

Even when VAR is used to check errors, sometimes, the Referee makes the wrong call. A recent event happened in Arsenal vs Leeds united game that saw VAR overrule Bukayo Saka's penalty call against Leeds.

The referee had awarded the penalty only for VAR to check and decided it was not a penalty. The scene drew the attention of sports fans, commentators and sports analysts, who tagged the decision horrendous.

In some cases, VAR has helped correct wrong decisions, which is very good, but it had gone the other way in some others.

3. Lack of transparency

Pundits have questioned the presence of VAR in the Premier League stating that it has taken the power of officiating from referees and has overturned almost 40% of referees' decision in matches.

The Video Assistant Referee, VAR, in 2019/2020 Premier League season has overturned over 78 goals that referees gave, with only 3 overturned goals rejected by referees.

The VAR has also lead to the showing of 12 red cards to players in 2019/2020 Premier League season leading to the questioning of their decisions that are accompanied by errors.

This brings a lack of transparency in the games. Players on the field of play, football fans in the stadium and those watching from their Televisions do not know what is happening in the VAR room. It is not transparent.

What fans know is what is happening on the pitch, and that is what they care about.

4. Slows down the game and reduces confidence

The calling back of referees by VAR for error checks has reduced the confidence in officiating and slows down the games

The checking of errors by the VAR team in the Premier League sometimes takes a long time before making a final decision, affecting the pace of football matches.

There have been situations where the Referee had to rewatch the VAR team's replayed videos too many times that even sports fans get irritated.

In the first season of VAR in the Premier League, many counter-attacks were stopped by referees due to a call from VAR for an incident in the field. This caused players to switch off, lose concentration and fans alike.

In 2020/2021 Premier League season, in an Annual General Meeting on 6 August 2020, the Premier League's shareholders approved the use of VAR for the second season stating it will be done in line with FIFA'S protocols.

The clash in the decision between VAR team and referees has left many referees to be prone to errors while officiating matches

Following the FIFA guideline, Premier League introduced the Referee Review Area, where referees can review every incident seen by the VAR after the 2019 season that had only the VAR to check an accident.

Even though the Referee Review Area(RRA) rule was introduced, the controversies by VAR has continued in 2020 season as VAR still restricts referees in making the final decision.

The Video Assistant Referee, VAR, has also overturned many goals in 2020 season, and that has left players, coaches and more especially football fans with anger.

The overturning of goals by VAR has killed the flow and the emotions surrounding the game of football, reducing the pace and the aggressiveness of the game, especially in the Premier League.

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