Demand to Scrap the VAR is to cry for the moon, by Football Alhaja

NEWS DIGEST – The summer of 2018 saw football take a new dimension when FIFA launched the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) at its flagship competition in Russia. It’s successful use at the World Cup  gave encouragement for its future which has seen top European Leagues embrace the practice.

VAR made its Premier League debut this season, and accompanied by it a series of controversial moments that has left many affiliated with the league running out of patience. The advent of such technology is to clarify for the officiating referees on blatant mistakes and calls during the course of a game. In FIFA’s words, it shall be used for ‘clear and obvious error’ in four areas; Goals, Penalties, Mistaken identity and Direct Red cards. Yes, offsides are not included, a player is either offside or not.

A distinctive feature of the Premier League that captivates it’s enormous fan base is the electrifying, blistering, furious and combative brand of football it serves, and VAR may just be causing disruption to these attributes. The new system has dominated the headlines halfway into the season, where hardly a matchweek goes by without any significant VAR induced contention.

Often, matches get eclipsed by dubious officiating. This hallmark is a major reason for the heavy criticism of the VAR by managers and fans, and unfortunately Premier League clubs have been told that there will be no substantial changes anytime soon.

Match officials have struggled with consistency in rulings over incidents of similar nature. This is among numerous reasons why the attention of IFAB (International Football Association Board) has been called for an extensive reassessment of football laws, especially that of the handball which has stirred up countless debates.

The Premier League seem to have adopted a more lenient approach towards the ruling of handball, unlike UEFA who are more stringent. The handball cases of Moussa Sissoko in the CL final and Presnel Kimpembe’s against Manchester United in the QF that lead to penalties being awarded may have been ruled out under Premier League guidance, while Trent Alexander-Arnold’s against City may have counted as a spot kick under UEFA rulings. This has again left more confusion for Premier League players who feature in European games.

Referees’ reluctance to use pitch-side monitors is another reason why VAR has been attacked. Foul play that are contentious should be reviewed by the on-pitch referee. The on-pitch referee has a better understanding of the intensity of the game and should be the one to pass judgement after consulting the pitch-side monitor instead of some far away personnel in an enclosed room full of screens calling the shots.

There are arguments for the offside rule to be amended. It makes no sense whatsoever to disallow goals based on a matter of inches or millimeters. VAR does incredible in calculating such margins of microscopic nature of course, but this is football and not a bacterial genetics research in some laboratory off the coast of California. There is no need for such precision here.

Another debate that lingers on is that of an attacking player handling the ball which leads to a goal being scored. An example is Sadio Mane’s disallowed goal against Manchester United due to the ball bouncing off his thigh and hitting his hand. This is also an area that needs scrutiny.

Debates add to the thrill of our beautiful game, and will remain over unclear incidents because Football laws are subjective and decisions are still down to human interpretation. FIFA and IFAB have a daunting task ahead of them, redrafting the laws of the game looks necessary at this stage, and with Euro 2020 on the horizon, it may take a little while for implementation.

Much has been said about VAR’s negative impact on football, but if one looks closely, it’s still the imperfect officials who make those final calls. VAR has done a lot of good to limit errors that have been match defining and unfair to losing sides in the past. As is typical of football fans, criticism always arises when decisions go against our teams. Aside the delay VAR reviews cause, and the loss of thrill after a goal is cancelled out which can be damaging to the atmosphere of the stadiums, one can hardly argue that it is not a welcomed development.