Why is there negativity surrounding VAR?

Ever since Video Assistant Referee [VAR] has been introduced to the Premier League, debates about it have been the hottest commodity in football.

In fact, this new refereeing process has been hands-down the most scrutinised thing in this young Premier League season, beating out any player, manager, item, or team.

The volume of the complaints regarding VAR differ depending on which team you support, but you’d be hard pressed to find a majority of fans anywhere who support its integration.

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So many fans and pundits have criticised and questioned the Premier League’s decision to include the simple process of referees double-checking controversial calls.

Although competitions involving VAR have endured hits and misses (a successful World Cup and a not-so-great Women’s World Cup) Premier League followers have treated VAR as if it was from the depths of hell, which it certainly isn’t.

Instead the debate about VAR is more complex than your average raging Manchester City fan may think. It’s not a simple black or white, good or bad thing.

We’re making all the wrong points and arguments about it. This is what the conversation about VAR should sound like.

First off, the whole narrative about “VAR making a call” is majorly flawed. VAR does not make a good call, nor does it make a bad call. VAR doesn’t make decisions.

A camera itself doesn’t take a picture, but a human being does, using the camera as the medium for that exercise.

And as with VAR, it is still the human beings calling the shots, using VAR as a helping method to do so.

VAR didn’t rule out Gabriel Jesus’s winning goal against Tottenham Hotspur, a fully functioning human being using VAR ruled it out himself.

And when an incorrect call is made, such as Fernando Llorente’s handball goal in the Champions League last season, it is not VAR that got that call wrong, it’s the referee who did.

That’s why saying, “Ugh, West Ham got screwed by VAR today,” isn’t only shallow, it’s completely wrong.

VAR isn’t partial to a single team, and it doesn’t make wrong calls.

If a referee makes an incorrect call, then he failed to properly use the VAR system to his advantage, and the entire blame should fall on him because he made the incorrect decision, even after taking a second look.

A camera didn’t disallow Leander Dendoncker’s goal for Wolves two weeks ago, a human did.

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Yet VAR is still deeply criticised by many people who claim that VAR makes games less flowing with more stoppages and ugly pauses, and takes away certainty.

One Brighton & Hove Albion player talked about how he didn’t celebrate after he scored a goal for risk of looking foolish if it was taken away using VAR.

This argument, that VAR takes away the spirit of the game by introducing uncertainty and long stoppages is not a great argument at all.

Because wouldn’t you rather see the correct call being made than have to sit through a tiny bit checking and reviewing?

Before VAR, referees, in a study by FIFA, would only make 93% of calls correctly.

Sure, fans wouldn’t have to endure an agonising 30 seconds of a review, but still, 7% of calls wrong is a lot and unsettling.

After VAR was implemented, that number rose to 99.3%.

And yeah, that might include some stoppages and uncertainty when the ball hits the net, but isn’t that small sacrifice worth it if it means getting the call correct?

That 6.3% increase is vital. Because VAR would’ve ruled out Thierry Henry’s handball assist against Ireland in World Cup qualifying many years ago, and would’ve given Frank Lampard’s goal in the 2010 World Cup against Germany.

Sure, fans would’ve had to sit through a bit of reviewing during a stoppage of play, but those earth-shattering wrong calls would’ve been overturned, which should trump all other small sacrifices.

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This is where the argument against VAR gets a little senseless.

If you’re not willing to endure a small checking process to ensure that a wrong call that can affect a game, a season, or a World Cup gets negated – perhaps you shouldn’t be in this debate at all.

The bottom line is, VAR is here to help. It is what it is – camera angles that allow the referee to take a second look at a tough call.

Double-checking something is never, under any circumstances, a bad thing, and why the simple process of double checking calls in Premier League football is suddenly a problem, even a debate, is baffling.

And the funny thing? Amidst all this scrutiny, VAR has gotten every single call correct this season.

Following three weeks of using it and around a dozen or so reviews, every single one has ended up the right call.

And if that 0.7% chance that an incorrect call happens, that would be the referee’s error, not VAR’s fault.

The pessimism and negativity around VAR is surprising, but you know in the back of your mind that this kind of reception was bound to occur.

It either comes from the traditionalists, who ignore the fact that more calls are correct with VAR around, and still gripe “Technology is ruining football!” or from fans of teams who have had goals ruled out via the use of VAR, even when the goal is rightfully ruled out.

To say that you hate VAR because it ruled out your favorite team’s illegal goal is a different kind of ignorance. Ignorance about the future.

If there’s one lesson learned: there will always be contrarians, even when it’s a blatant improvement to the system.

Author Details

Henry Reichman

Football writer and fan of the game. I support Liverpool, Atalanta, and the New York Red Bulls, as well as the USWNT. Jazz piano player in my spare time.

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