Six of One – Is VAR ruining World Cup 2018?
Six of One is our regular look at a major issue from the world of sport.
This week we’re asking – has the introduction of VAR ruined this year’s World Cup?
The case against…
Few fans would like to admit it, but poor decision-making and outrageous refereeing decisions are part of what makes football great. Chaos and injustice is part of the sport’s charm, keeping fans hooked week after week, fuelling phone-in debates and firing up Twitterstorms.
With the introduction of VAR, that magic is lost. Sanitising the game too much by double-checking and triple-checking every decision ruins the joy of spontaneous celebration as fans become increasingly aware of a potential VAR call stifling their fun.
— Peter Schmeichel (@Pschmeichel1) June 21, 2018
Forget individual brilliance or stunning team play – sometimes, there’s nothing better than a richly undeserved 94th minute winner. That rub of the green might fall your team’s way one week, against them the next – but it creates talking points and the adrenaline rush that keeps fans wanting more. VAR kills debates that could rumble on for days stone dead within minutes.
Look at Iran’s equaliser that never was against Spain – as a marginal call, if the goal had stood it had the potential to be one of the great World Cup moments. VAR ultimately called it correctly, but it instantly removed any romance from the game. Plucky underdogs will never again benefit from a lucky break. Does any football fan, deep down, really want that?
GOAL DISALLOWED! An IR Iran free-kick goes all the way through the Spanish defence and finds Ezatolahi at the back post who pokes it in but after a VAR review it is ruled out for offside pic.twitter.com/HN7IreyiGQ
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) June 20, 2018
Most of the hostility towards VAR lies in its execution in real time. Decisions take too long, with whole passages of play taking place before referees intervene. For the sake of the game, surely it’s better to suck up the occasional refereeing blunder to keep football free-flowing?
In sports more accustomed to natural pauses in the ebb and flow of the action such as rugby and cricket, the added technology doesn’t ruin the enjoyment of the game. VAR has been a worthy experiment worth trialling, but whilst the technology has its advantages, it just doesn’t translate well to a frenetic, full-blooded game such as football.
Maybe it’s time to press the pause button, re-embrace the madness of poor officiating and hang on tight to that old adage – luck will even itself out in the end…
The case for…
Fans have always been reluctant to embrace any change – and VAR is just another example of stubborn resistance to a change that has the potential to eliminate glaring errors from the game.
Iron out some of its more obvious flaws, and VAR could just start to win fans over. Whilst you can never wholly eliminate human error, why not least try and minimise it?
We don’t often think about just how much the sport has evolved over the last century or so. From three points for a win, to the introduction of play offs, to the away goals rule, the laws of the game have never really been set in stone. VAR deserves time to bed in and prove its worth – provided the powers-that-be take the complaints about it seriously.
As we’ve seen at this World Cup, it’s not so much the technology that’s the problem, but the way VAR is being applied from game to game. If it’s going to become an accepted part of the game, referees, players, pundits and fans alike all need to be better briefed on when VAR should be used, with any grey areas clarified before it is rolled out further.
👉 There have now been more penalties (11) at the 2018 #WorldCup than in the entire group phase in 2014 (10)
— FIFA World Cup 🏆 (@FIFAWorldCup) June 21, 2018
When it works well – such as with several penalty decisions that were clear-cut on closer inspection – it shows real potential. At this stage in time, however, it still takes far too long for from the initial infringement to the final VAR decision being made – noticeably interrupting the flow of the game.
With that in mind, why not introduce some subtle improvements before chucking the baby out with the bathwater?
Removing the pitchside screen and making the VAR team directly responsible for overruling a decision would be a good start – taking the referee out of the firing line for any confusion that results from a dubious VAR call.
Players making the screen gesture at a referee should also be booked for dissent. One ugly side of a brilliant World Cup so far has been the sight of players trying to pressure the referee into second-guessing their original decision.
If it’s here to stay, football should look to how other sports have successfully integrated technology and see what they can learn from. After Russia, why not mic up the referees or allow managers to play a joker and challenge a set amount of decisions per half via VAR?
With VAR unsatisfying in its current guide, even minor changes might help bring fans onside.
Where do you stand on the great VAR debate?
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Images sourced from PA Images.