By Steve Moulds
With the new season underway, and fans being unable to watch from the stands, it is some relief to get back to moaning about how useless (or “helpful” – in the interest of balance) VAR continues to be – after all, who would deny us the inexplicable joy of losing our sense of perspective as Vardy is denied a goal by a pixel-width line on a monitor in Stockley Park!
The Foxes Trust had a great response to the VAR survey circulated at the end of last season. Most of the results were unsurprising and it remains to be seen if any of your concerns are addressed by changes implemented by PGMOL* for 20/21. What follows is a brief analysis of the results. A download link to a summary document, showing the percentage responses to each question, is at the end of this article.
Clearly, with more VAR decisions during matches at the KP (up to lockdown) than at any other ground, City fans were well placed to comment on how VAR had operated. This was evidenced by answers to Question 1, with over 70% of respondents rating themselves at 7 or above (on a scale of 10) for their understanding of the rules pertaining to the use of VAR. However, for those who regularly attend matches, 84% had not seen referees use the pitch-side monitors, as we had been advised that they would by the Premier League. This may have contributed to the majority (57%) being unclear that the on field referees decision is final – which it should be under the rules of football governed by IFAB* – intimating supporters think the VAR is having more influence than it should.
Question 4 dealt with the communication of VAR decisions on the screens in the stadium. For regular attendees, it seems these messages need to be displayed on-screen for longer but for most, what is shown is clear and easy to understand.
The next section dealt with how VAR is affecting the way fans view the game. It is clear for the majority that decisions are taking too long to resolve and that this is not helping referees get the decisions correct anyway. What is more, VAR is used on too numerous occasions and is changing the way fans react to incidents in the game with 86% or regular attendees agreeing that goal celebrations were becoming muted, leading to reduced enjoyment of the game. So, helpfully, we can understand what is blatantly annoying us and disrupting the flow of the game?!
The above being said, over 80% of respondents agreed that continued use of VAR would not effect their attendance of matches.
Turning to questions on possible solutions, over 50% of respondents think that some alteration to the laws of football may be required in order for VAR to work more effectively. Around 70% would like to see VAR used only for objective decisions – but that obviously depends on how the laws dictate what is deemed “clear and obvious”.
The final section tried to draw out some views on how VAR is affecting the way the game is being played. Over 50% think that defenders and attackers are reacting differently because VAR is in operation. 63% think players are asking referees for VAR reviews – which supposedly they should not do on penalty of a yellow card. Most of you agree that VAR has done little to alter the number of incidences of diving nor has it helped referees correctly judge red cards for poor tackles. It is noted that a red card was rescinded on the first weekend of the new season, when the referee reviewed his decision on the pitch-side monitor – perhaps things are already changing for the better?
Many thanks to those respondents who took the time to leave comments at the end of the survey. Stuart Dawkins provides a summary.
VAR Survey Comments
The VAR survey included the question: “If you have any other comments on the use of VAR that haven’t been covered above, please leave them below.” This produced a total of 121 responses. these covered a variety of topics, but a few dominated the responses:
- Simply scrap VAR.
- VAR takes too long and spoils the flow and enjoyment of the game.
- If a VAR check takes several minutes, it is surely not ‘clear and obvious’.
- The match referee should retain full control of decisions, using pitch-side monitors when required.
- The lack of effective communication with fans within grounds, often referring to rugby union or cricket where spectators are kept fully informed of the decision process.
- A variety of comments re changes to the VAR protocols and/or Laws of the game to make VAR work better.
- Simply ‘VAR is here to stay’.
A few sample comments on each topic follow…
Simply scrap VAR.
“Should be scrapped immediately”.
VAR takes too long and spoils the flow and enjoyment of the game.
“A significant amount of spontaneity and joy is being lost to the game because of VAR.”
If a VAR check takes several minutes, it is surely not ‘clear and obvious’.
“Ruining the joy of football. If it takes 4 minutes and 30 replays across 6 different camera angles, it’s not clear and obvious. A decision should be made within 5-10 seconds – if it’s clear and obvious that’ll be enough time”.
The match referee should retain full control of decisions, using pitch-side monitors when required.
“VAR should be used to aid the referee, not overrule him. As in the World Cup, the infringement should be brought to the ref’s attention and then he reviews the incident on the pitch side monitor before changing his mind or not.”
The lack of effective communication with fans within grounds, often referring to rugby union or cricket where spectators are kept fully informed of the decision process.
“Crowd at game should be respected and fully shown decision making process.”
A variety of comments re changes to the VAR protocols and/or Laws of the game to make VAR work better … specific suggestions included:
- Giving each team captain a specific number of VAR ‘appeals’ – akin to the process used in cricket.
- A tighter restriction on what VAR is used for: for example, for matters of clear fact not subjective opinion.
- Tweaks to the offside law to try to overcome the issue of very marginal decisions.
- Removing the recent addition to the rules re the ball hitting an attacker’s arm during the build-up to a goal.
Overall, the majority of respondents (53%) think VAR is for TV audiences and not fans in stadia. A significant percentage (35%) think VAR works neither for TV nor live football. The Premier League has promised to release statistics revealing how VAR has operated in 19/20. It started off this process by stating it thought the system was outcome neutral – so let us hope VAR proves to be more helpful than that for referees and less contentious as we move forward this season. With fans only able to watch via TV (for now) and any chances of supporters attending live games hanging by a thread, the fear is there may be more serious consequences for the game than the usefulness of VAR.
* PGMOL – Professional Game Match Officials Ltd – employs PL referees and runs the VAR at Stockley Park; IFAB – International Football Association Board – guardians of the Laws of the game.
(Thanks to Sarah Hubbard for her assistance in analysing the data.)