DREAM OR DISASTER? This article explores the news that the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system is set to be introduced into full practice for the 2019/20 English top flight season. 

The Premier League are finally jumping on the VAR bandwagon, following in the footsteps of FIFA and the Bundesliga.

The new technology has courted much controversy during its lengthy trial by the League and Professional Game Match Officials (PGMOL) throughout the past two years to mixed success. In January, just a day after the first VAR goal was awarded in English football, the system was labelled a “shambles” by Match Of The Day pundit, Alan Shearer, in light of a decision not to award a penalty in Chelsea’s tie against Norwich.

In a statement on their website, the Premier League declared that their “non-live testing programme will remain in place for the rest of this season, with a continued emphasis on those Saturday afternoons which have several matches being played concurrently“.

However, while clubs are now unanimous in support of VAR’s match-day use, a decision remains to be seen on the protocol for communicating VAR decisions to fans.

So, what is VAR and what can fans expect from the new technology?

The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is an off-field assistant who reviews live decisions made by the on-field referee with the use of video footage and a headset. VAR can only overturn a decision if there is a ‘clear and obvious error’ with the original ruling.

The use of video technology in football differs from other sports such as cricket and rugby. The power of decision making does not lie within the hands of the off-field assistant. This is because VAR’s implementation into football aims not to take the control away from the match referee. The video assistant referee triggers the process by recommending a review to the on-field referee after a ‘potential clear error’ occurs. However, the referee also has the ability to request a review himself.

The referee then has several options. He can overturn the decision on the advice of VAR, conduct an off-field review himself at a designated review screen, or declare confidence in the original decision and continue with play.

How did VAR fare at the World Cup?

The 2018 World Cup in Russia became the first tournament to use VAR in full at all matches and venues. Seen largely as a success, Pierluigi Collina, the chairman of referees at FIFA, claimed that VAR significantly contributed to making 99.3% of correct refereeing decisions at the tournament. Speaking to reporters at a post-tournament press conference, he called it “close to perfection“.

5STAR says: About time!

The Premier League has been crying out for a system that takes the pressure off the referees. Therefore, VAR will be a welcome addition to stadiums around the country.

Only last weekend events during Southampton’s fixture with Watford highlighted this. Saints striker, Charlie Austin, was denied a clear goal to put the hosts 2-0 ahead at St Mary’s. The match ended 1-1 and Austin vented his fury afterwards at the match officials in a post-game interview. Referencing the need for VAR, the attacker fumed, “Help the officials out. Clearly they need help.”

5Star believes implementing VAR into the Premier League can only be a good thing for the future of English football. It will help iron out the officiating errors that have previously taken centre stage in the league. Whilst maintaining the sport’s long-established traditions, the new technology paves the way for a fairer, cleaner game.

by Ben Stevenson for 5STAR Football – click here for more.