Probably the most controversial aspect of Premier League football at the moment is the use of VAR.
So, what is it? Video Assistant Referee (commonly known as VAR) is a new video technology system which was introduced to the Premier League at the start of the 2019-20 season. All 20 clubs unanimously voted for VAR to be introduced.
The system was created to be used only in deciding errors and missed incidents in four different match-changing situations. These are goals, penalty decisions, direct red card incidents and mistaken identity. According to www.premierleague.com/VAR, VAR “will positively influence decision making and lead to more correct and fairer judgments.”
So why all the negativity?
This new referee technology was supposed to revolutionise the game of football in the EPL. It was supposed to make games better and allow in-game referees to better officiate the game with fairer calls and decisions.
However, since its introduction eight months ago, VAR has dominated coverage. Many games have had controversial decisions made by the new system. For example, in a 3-2 win for Brighton against Everton, in the 77th minute of the game Brighton was awarded a penalty by VAR for a supposed ‘foul’ by the Everton defender Michael Keane.
Brighton scored the penalty and ended up winning the match. After the game, Everton manager Marco Silva asked, “If VAR saw something in our box, why didn’t it see 15 minutes earlier the penalty for Richarlison?”
This example is one of many in which the use of VAR has created conflict and ‘unfairness’ when a call is given to one challenge which was not given to a similar challenge by the other team. Another example of VAR controversy was in Norwich’s 3-1 defeat to Manchester United, where VAR awarded a penalty to the Red Devils after Dan James had a collision with Norwich defender Ben Godfrey.
United missed the penalty but outrage evolved as everyone knew that Dan James fell on Godfrey and after the game, Norwich manager Daniel Farke said, “It’s quite obvious it was a big mistake.” This incident further shows the frustration towards the system as its sole purpose was to make refereeing better and fairer, yet occasions like the one in this game completely defy that.
A third example of VAR controversy is a game against Crystal Palace where Arsenal had a goal disallowed with seven minutes left to go in the match. The VAR was lengthy and after coming to a conclusion to not give the goal, no real explanation was given to the fans in the stadium.
This decision left the players and fans frustrated as they had to wait to resume play and the fans did not get a conclusive explanation to why the decision was needed and took so long.
However, the biggest quarrel that involves VAR is its very harsh offside goal rules. In 2019, Jack de Menezes wrote that the Premier League are not using the video assistant referee system correctly, it should stick to clear and obvious fouls and not be relied on pinpointing the marginal offside calls.
VAR has been constantly used to call players who are millimetres offside even with parts of the body that cannot be used to score goals such as hands and arms. These time-wasting calls have frustrated players, coaches, fans and the entire football community and they are calling for immediate change to way VAR is being used in the Premier League.
Most football fans have agreed that VAR is ruining the flow and spirit of the game as it seems like every match there are controversial decisions made by the system that stops play for long periods of time. They feel as if the sport they love is not natural anymore and the constant use of VAR is polluting the way in which the sport should be played.
Even though VAR can be seen as an advancement for the sport, if it wishes to improve and satisfy the majority of both football fans and players, the system has to be used in a proper and balanced way and is not relied on for every decision in the game.
Overall, VAR has had a catastrophic impact on the function of English league football and unfortunately not in a good way. We all love the idea of having better and more accurate decisions made in a football match but VAR has brought it to the extent in the slightest errors with non-goalscoring body parts of players being called offside or the blatantly obvious penalties and fouls being given or not.
These events ruin the spirit of football as it now a sport of millimetres and fouls rather than the free-flowing game all football fans love and enjoy.