Scrapping VAR is the stupidest thing the Premier League could do - here's why

17 May 2024, 12:33 | Updated: 17 May 2024, 13:07

Scrapping VAR
Scrapping VAR. Picture: Getty Images

By Olly Roberts

When the Premier League became the last of Europe’s major leagues to adopt VAR in 2019, it was seen as a long time coming. Used to huge success in a number of other sports, there was a widespread belief that this would revolutionise and improve the game massively.

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Fast forward five years and the very mention of the term provokes feelings of indignation and resentment. 

But does this anger stem from an issue with the technology itself, or the needlessly convoluted processes of using it? 

I’d argue it’s almost entirely the latter, and that, while there are no doubt a plethora of problems with VAR, particularly in the context of the Premier League, scrapping it entirely would be a truly mad decision. 

Wolves’ statement to the Premier League, which triggered a vote on the use of video assistant referees, argues that: "The price we are paying for a small increase in accuracy is at odds with the spirit of our game."

But what does this remark actually mean? In Wolves’ case, it seems they’d prefer that all on-field goal decisions are allowed to stand, so long as supporters get the spontaneity of being able to celebrate. By this same logic, Maradona’s ‘hand of God’ and Thierry Henry’s infamous cheating vs Ireland are well within ‘the spirit of the game’, and these types of incidents are a small price to pay, God forbid fans are robbed of ‘limbs’. 

It’s worth clarifying that I do have some sympathy with the view that unnecessarily long VAR checks and a severe lack of communication are ridding people of the enjoyment football should provide. But I simply do not believe that getting rid of the very technology the majority spent years yearning for will suddenly extinguish all problems and stop fans feeling disgruntled. Rather, I think it would only enhance the number of issues. 

Many are obviously frustrated with VAR intervening in what they deem not to be ‘clear and obvious’ decisions, yet imagine if those that do indeed meet that criteria can no longer be corrected. An absolute howler of an offside stops your side from winning the league - hard luck. The opposition’s striker sinks his teeth into your defender’s arm - unlucky guys. Anger about these objectively wrong errors will only be heightened in the knowledge that we’ve binned the very technology that made it possible to fix these mistakes.

It’s also both lazy and ignorant to suggest that VAR is the sole problem when changes could be made to improve it so easily. For a start, you could make offsides automated, like the Champions League has already been doing. You could stop sending officials to a tiny monitor every single time and speed up the decision-making process. You could be more transparent and allow fans to hear the communication between VAR and the on-field officials. 

Believe it or not, the Premier League is already looking at doing these things. The Athletic reports that “as well as automated offsides due to be adopted in the next 12 months, the PGMOL want to improve communication of in-stadium decisions when IFAB laws allow for it.” 

Evidently, VAR isn’t perfect and this is far from an attempt to defend how it’s being used currently. There will never be a case where the right decisions are made 100% of the time, but there’s no doubt we’ll get the right outcomes a hell of a lot more than if it’s dumped entirely. 

Football needs to overcome its ignorance and accept that VAR is not a revolutionary thing specific to the sport. In actuality, it’s been massively behind the curve for some time, with the likes of cricket, rugby and American football using video referees extremely effectively. 

It’s time to adapt and learn from these sports, rather than pretend football is special in its own right. Fix the system, don’t destroy it. Scrapping VAR would be rash and brainless - some might even say VARcical.

LBC Views provides a platform for diverse opinions on current affairs and matters of public interest. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official LBC position.

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