Thursday, February 27, 2020

VAR and Away

WILL FIFA STEP IN AND SORT OUT THE MESS?

This is a leap year in more ways than one. VAR's full implementation for the first time in the Premier League has caused a ton of arguments.

Far from there being universal content that dodgy decisions are now a thing of the past, there is instead a weekly furore over goals being ruled out by a matter of centimetres or umbrage over clear refereeing mistakes.

There was always heated post-match chat about the officials' decisions but the technology has only seemed to increase the dissatisfaction.

If the tech was supposed to facilitate the football, then VAR has been a resounding backfire.

Every correct decision it has made or rubber-stamped has been drowned out by fan frustration over its shortcomings, or more often than not, its over-zealous application.

The fact goals are being ruled out more than before has altered the stadium experience in an unforeseen way, as supporters are now unsure how loudly to cheer, for fear of looking stupid if the machine says otherwise.

While the pedantic puritanism of ruling out strikes because a toe, an elbow or an ear was marginally offside grates with those on the receiving end, then there are also clanging errors in the application of VAR with which everyone can concur.

Last weekend's Chelsea v Tottenham match, for instance, provided the clearest evidence yet that the tech is flawed when the referee and video officials inexplicably failed to spot Giovanni Lo Celso's stamp on Cesar Azpilicueta, an ugly foul which on review demanded a red card be shown.

Yet perhaps the system's biggest shortcoming is that it disrupts the flow of what has always been a fluid sport, unlike tennis or American football which have intrinsic breaks in their action.

FIFA has so far remained quiet on any changes to VAR but the IFAB board who decide on rule amendments are set to meet in Belfast this weekend for their 134th annual meeting.

IFAB contains eight representatives, one each from the home nations and four from FIFA with any law changes requiring a 6-2 majority.

Point five of their "Items for Discussion and/or Decision" this weekend in Ireland concerns VAR and is split into a "Report on global VAR use" and "Possible future developments."

This all sounds a bit toothless, but I could be wrong. I am hoping they grasp the mettle. It would be a serious dereliction of duty were they to ignore the elephant in the room.

Picture from Wired.co.uk
The sport's governing body simply must do something now to stop the rot or else the anger will only grow louder.

This season the Beautiful Game has changed and not all for the better. If change is voted for this weekend, any alterations will become mandatory across FIFA from the start of June.

IFAB might be a somewhat invisible body and FIFA does not help with transparency by not listing its members on its website, but this eight-man team wields extraordinary power.

If it wants to soothe the anger it can. Their problem is there is no obvious panacea to the VAR crisis beyond calling a ceasefire as there are many facets to consider and thus far its implementation has been piecemeal anyway across the soccer world.

Should FIFA for instance insist on referees consulting the pitchside screen if the VAR officials suggest so because right now he/she may decline to; should they show the incident on the big screen at the same time as the referee is deliberating as they do in rugby?

Should they limit the number of referrals and/or introduce time limits?  Should they insist on the same criteria for VAR in the Champions and Europa League as in domestic competitions etc.

There really is a plethora of issues surrounding VAR and one wonders why these problems were not flagged up during the extensive trials.

For my money I would be happy to ditch VAR and just employ technology for goal-line disputes or at most penalty awards as well. If we are going to have VAR for offside then I would prefer designated daylight between attacker and defender than the strict status quo which defeats the human eye.

It is high time the game's rulers admitted VAR's shortcomings need urgent attention.

Football has taken a gamble and it has not paid off, but it is not too late to make amends.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

No comments: