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  • Writer's pictureLuke Powell

How do they improve VAR?

Since the 2019/20 season we’ve had VAR in the Premier League, and now four years later, drastic changes are being called for. PGMOL has made apology after apology and the incident where Luis Diaz’s onside goal was ruled out incorrectly has led to severe criticism and discussion of VAR.

In 2016, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), which oversees the laws of the game, approved trials for video assistant referees, and subsequently on March 3rd 2018, IFAB agreed to allow the use of VARs. In November 2018 Premier League clubs voted unanimously to introduce VAR into English football’s top-flight league and it would come the following season, pending testing.  

Testing was deemed a success and in July 2020 IFAB transferred the responsibility of VAR to FIFA while the two organisations still work closely together with regards to VAR protocol, related laws and qualification requirements. 

Protocol - important to highlight and emphasise. VAR officials have certain protocols to follow throughout games, yet on many occasions manage to butcher their decisions. It’s not the technology that is failing, it’s the people operating it - something which has been known all along. 

Yes, Premier League chiefs opted not to use World Cup-style technology this season, deciding against implementing the semi-automated offside technology which has looked like a ludicrous decision. The FIFA system has been a huge success and uses limb-tracking cameras to pinpoint the exact position of every player on the pitch, plus a chip in the ball to determine if the ball was played by a defender or attacker. 

But, the officials in the game between Spurs and Liverpool had the technology available to tell them it was a clear goal, yet communication broke down between them and messages of what the on-field decision were lost. When Gary O’Neill’s Wolves side saw a late penalty appeal turned down as Andre Onana clattered into two of his Wolves players, football fans were outraged at the decision. Officials failed to implement the rules correctly using the technology available and interpreted events that had happened incorrectly. PGMOL were left apologising for the mistake. 

Referees’ chief Howard Webb says ‘steps (have been) taken’ to avoid a repeat of the Luis Diaz VAR error. Darren England appeared to say that the check was ‘perfect’ before cursing when he realised a mistake had been made. 

“One of things this had brought into sharp focus is the need to reiterate some of those communication protocols which are really valuable in VAR to prevent this type of thing happening,” Webb told Sky and TNT Sports. 

It’s evident that changes are required, and well-respected and well-known sports journalist Henry Winter outlined what could change perfectly. 

Winter highlighted on X the difference between rugby and football saying: “In quality, transparency and communication, rugby union’s application of TMO is so superior to English football and VAR. Different pace, scrutiny and respect levels but surely @FA_PGMOL can take something from TMO especially in live audio explanation.”

The journalist outlined his six-point plan to improve VAR which I think the majority can get behind.

  • Audio should be played live

  • Improving the standards of refereeing

  • Semi-automated offside introduction

  • Allow intervention after the restart

  • VAR specialists

  • No refereeing 36 hours after returning from lengthy flights

I’d place emphasis on point one. It’s probably his first point because it’s the strongest and one which makes the most sense in the immediate future. 

The lack of transparency is a big problem, and playing audio live like seen in cricket could also help the officials to come to the right decisions or avoid making the wrong ones. 

The apologies are worthless and meaningless to clubs who have lost out on points - which could prove crucial - and it may be these proposed changes that could move the game forward and see the quality of Video Assistant Refereeing improve.


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