While some trends in football may come and go, the use of the Video Assistant Referee (or VAR) at the sport’s elite level is likely to become increasingly prevalent in the coming months and years.
Of course, VAR is also a highly controversial topic for discussion, both from the perspective of its ability to deliver fair outcomes in matches and the role that referees play in officiating matches.
However, the burning question remains whether or not football is better with VAR, or if the use of technology actually causes more issues than it resolves? Let’s get into it!
The Rise of VAR
Before VAR, outcomes in football relied on the real-time view and opinions of match officials, with this seemingly inadequate state of affairs presiding over some incredibly contentious decisions over time.
For context, look no further than the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup playoff elimination at the hands of France in November 2009, with the record books showing that Les Bleus prevailed 2-1 over two legs to secure their place in South Africa.
However, it doesn’t tell the tale about the decisive goal that secured the French a crucial 1-1 draw in Paris, which involved a set piece, an offside at the time of delivery and two handballs by Thierry Henry before William Gallas nodded home.
Incredibly, the match officials managed to miss each of these infringements, with Ireland eventually eliminated at the end of extra-time in one of the biggest footballing travesties for modern times.
It’s this type of controversy that underlined the increased clamour for some kind of video technology to be deployed in the sport, particularly as more camera angles were introduced during live broadcasts and the stakes continued to rise with every passing year.
Has VAR Been a Success? The Good and the Bad of Video Technology
Despite meeting an obvious need, VAR has largely divided opinion since its inception, although this arguably has more to do with its application than the use of technology itself.
For example, it cannot be denied that VAR has delivered improved and fairer outcomes during matches, with binary and highly visual metrics used to determine offsides in the build-up to goals.
However, initial concerns were raised about the surrounding rules that underpinned VAR use, as players could be ruled offside by millimetres during attacking phases (affording the benefit of doubt to defenders). At the same time, handball laws have continued to change during VARs rollout, leading to scenarios where otherwise good goals are ruled out due to completely accidental and virtually undetectable handballs.
Then there’s the lack of consistency in terms of decision making across leagues and tournaments, with the final decisions still taken by officials and referees on the pitch and at Stockley Park. Human error and interpretation still plays a major role in making final decisions, especially with some laws remaining a little cloudy and open-ended.
The Bottom Line – Does Football Need VAR?
Clearly, there are flaws with VAR, particularly in terms of consistency, how referees are taught to use the technology and the underlying laws that support the use of video technology.
As we can see, however, none of these issues arise directly from video technology, which continues to rely on surefire metrics to provide accurate decisions pertaining to offsides and the analysis of controversial goals.
In this respect, football needs VAR and is all the better for its inclusion, with the sport’s various governing bodies tasked with optimising the laws of the game and affording video technology the best chance of success.
If you still need convincing of this, cast your mind back to Paris in 2009 and consider how VAR would have stopped the French from securing a completely illegitimate and unjust win.