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VAR – Why Is It Still So Controversial?

Why Is VAR Still So Controversial
Yashwant Shakyawal

On the 4-year anniversary of its implementation at the Fifa World Cup in 2018 (and having been used in the English Premier League, and many other leagues before that), VAR, or Video Assistant Referee, is still arguably as controversial today as it ever was. As technology has advanced in sports, new policies and rules have been adopted, but none are as contentious as VAR. Here we will look at what it is about VAR that troubles people and if it looks likely to continue to do so through the next World Cup and onwards.

What is VAR?

Simply put, VAR is an extra check on what has happened in a match at any given point. It is used to review four types of decisions: goals and the action beforehand, penalties, and red cards. And also checking if the card is being awarded to the right player. A team of three officials reviews the video footage of the game and makes a recommendation about the referee’s decision. He can then change his call, stick with the original decision or review the footage himself.

The referee can also ask to see the footage before making a decision if he wishes. The referee’s ruling can only be overturned automatically if there is a clear error, usually something like a goal being scored while a player is an offside. Otherwise the ref must decide for himself if he will listen to the recommendations.

Why is VAR still so controversial?

One of the best aspects of football is the build-up of play, watching a team draw out their opponents; seek to make space, and then make the run for a goal. Historically football abhors interruption, players and fans alike would instead allow the momentum to continue. And then be called back endlessly because of an opposing player’s small foul. VAR involves and promises many more breaks and pauses as it gets to work; leading people to fear that football will become another stop/start sport like many others instead of staying true to itself.

Further, big decisions like the awarding of a penalty to Brighton by VAR overturning the referee’s decision leading them to a 3-2 victory against Everton don’t help matters; especially when they later agreed that this was a mistake. Human error is one thing, but errors from the system that is supposed to help out only when needed are another matter.

The future of VAR

There have always been controversial decisions in football; with referees being accused of favoritism or just missing key moments that the VAR should be able to check over time. While there are clearly some kinks to be worked out and perhaps clearer parameters to be laid out, the odds for the English Premier League and all the others continuing with VAR are high. It remains to be seen how the use of the technology will impact the Fifa 2022 World Cup in Qatar; for those that support its sake; they better hope that there are no match-changing blunders this year.

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