Why worry over the VAR?

The Video Assistant Referee System, the officials say, is to provide ‘minimum intervention and maximum benefit’. However, many star players and managers are sceptical about it.

New-age refereeing: The VAR machine by the pitch-side helps spot even the subtlest of mistakes overlooked by the on-field referee.   -  AFP

The possible inclusion of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) System in football has created a buzz among the connoisseurs of the game. The idea behind the move, apparently, is to improve the accuracy of the referees’ decisions on the field. Though it has not yet been written into the laws of the game, the VAR system is being tested in major club competitions.

In Europe the system has already been implemented in the Bundesliga (Germany) and Serie A (Italy) this year. It appears that there is not much of a problem in Serie A, whereas in the Bundesliga the players, coaches and fans seem to be a tad unhappy, as there have been frequent interventions by the VAR, resulting in unusual delays in the game.

As the name suggests, a Video Assistant Referee would be seated in a dedicated room with his assistant, AVAR (Assistant Video Assistant Referee), in front of state-of-the-art technology monitors on which the live footage of the match can be viewed in real time, slow motion and ultra slow motion from various angles. This helps them spot even the subtlest of mistakes overlooked by the on-field referee. There is also a provision for the on-field referee to review a particular instance on a monitor along the sideline. The VAR doesn’t have access to the live broadcast or the commentary, so there is no chance of getting externally influenced.

Now, one might wonder if the VAR would intervene for every trivial incident on the pitch — which is what most reckon. They are anxious that it might cause unnecessary confusion and delay, and would also hamper the intensity of the game.

The officials, however, say the system is to provide ‘minimum intervention and maximum benefit’. They also say that it is open for improvement.

The VAR would be used only for instances with grey shades. It could be used for: 1. Giving a direct red card to a player, 2. Misidentification of players, 3. Awarding penalty or spot kick, especially for ball handling and 4. Awarding a goal.

Recently, Kelechi Iheanacho of Leicester City became the first player in English football to be awarded a goal by the VAR, after his strike had been ruled offside in a third round replay match against Fleetwood in the FA Cup. Everybody lauded the system for being very effective.

However, the praise for VAR didn’t last for even a day, as Chelsea was denied a penalty by the system in a third round replay against Norwich City in the FA Cup. Chelsea’s Willian surged into the box before being challenged by Norwich’s Timm Klose. The replay showed contact, but Chelsea’s appeal for penalty was denied and Willian was booked for ‘diving’. The Video Assistant Referee did not intervene and this led to a barrage of criticism of the system.

Many star players and managers are sceptical about the system, while some are for it. I believe the VAR would come in only when the on-field referee misses out on conspicuous fouls or misconducts. The system is still in its early stages and it can be regulated over time.

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