Six of One… Was the Premier League wrong to not introduce VAR?
Six of One is our regular look at a burning issue from the world of sport.
Today we’re asking: Was the Premier League wrong to delay the introduction of VAR?
The case for…
Within three minutes of the 2018/19 Premier League season starting, we had its first major incident as Man Utd were awarded a penalty after Daniel Amartey handled in the area.
Thankfully for the referee, that call was fairly clear cut even to the casual viewer on TV, but if it hadn’t been, the calls for VAR would have been deafening with just one game of the Premier League season gone.
As soon as FIFA opted to open the Pandora’s Box that is VAR at World Cup 2018, resistance was futile.
With fans now far more comfortable with the technology, its noticeable absence across the 2018-19 season becomes a discussion point in itself. Expect to hear those three letters repeated ad nauseum in the Match of the Day, Sky and BT studios throughout this season as soon as a referee bottles a penalty decision, or an assistant referee fails to spot a tight offside when a crucial late goal is scored.
Even for those who initially hated VAR, there doesn’t seem much justification for pushing back against the tide. As was demonstrated again and again in Russia, the technology works. It’s the fine-tuning and the officials making the decisions that are the problem.
Which brings us to the Catch-22: if it’s the officials, not VAR itself, that are the big stumbling block in winning fans over to the technology, how can they be expected to improve unless regularly exposed to using it as a natural part of managing a game?
FIFA clearly wants the technology to become the game’s next great innovation. Is there any point in dragging things out and making it even harder for referees this season?
The case against….
The Premier League rightly has a premium product to protect, with millions of fans around the world scrutinising every minor decision. Why should the (so-called) best league in the world introduce VAR if it still has something to prove?
With VAR still very much in its infancy, surely it’s the correct call by the Premier League to leave the fine-tuning of the technology to cup competitions where – if fans are honest – the stakes tend to be much lower. World Cup 2018 also proved that many referees, even at elite level, still need breathing space to adapt to the technology and apply it correctly. Road-testing it in domestic cups away from the highly-charged atmosphere of a league game can only be a good thing.
The use of VAR during World Cup 2018 showed its potential to be a gamechanger in transforming the game as we know it – not least in cutting down in-game theatrics and diving (Neymar anyone?). However, it still seemed a very bold move on FIFA’s part to usher in such a major reinvention of the game without first ironing out its many flaws – which weren’t down to the technology, but the rules surrounding its use.
Fans hate to embrace change, but that in itself shouldn’t be a barrier to trying new things to help enhance the game. Most tweaks to the sport made by the powers-that-be over the decades have been for the better, but they also need to listen to fans’ concerns about VAR as things currently stand.
Most reasonable fans can see the good in the technology but decisions need to be made more quickly to avoid ruining the flow of a game, and ideally explained (as with rugby) to both spectators and viewers. If the chaos that often surrounded the technology at World Cup 2018 continues, the technology will always have its detractors.
In school report terms VAR ‘shows promise but could do better’ – and whilst that’s still the case, the Premier League is probably right to be cautious.
All image sources from PA Images
Do you think VAR should be a feature of this season’s Premier League?
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