By Raj Chopra.
For over 120 years referees and their assistants have officiated on the football pitch without any use of technology. Major decisions were frequently made by the official in the middle, some of which were deemed correct, and some blatantly wrong.
Discussion around a contentious decision by the referee could go on for days, weeks and even months depending on the severity of the consequence.
Now, officials have the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) and Goal Line Technology (GLT) to help them. A contentious decision on the pitch can be referred to VAR by the referee which in turn initiates a panel of people in a remote studio away from the pitch to adjudicate. The VAR panel can either make a call or request that the referee refers back to make use of the pitchside monitor to make a final decision.
Footballers, pundits and commentators in the game have all complained that technology and in particular VAR is ruining the game.
Former professional footballer Jamie O’Hara made some interesting points on his radio show claiming VAR is killing football and it needs to go. He stated he’d prefer VAR not be used for off-side decisions and only for contentious red cards.
O’Hara’s comments will certainly have gathered support following the increased number of handball decisions given, and goals disallowed for offside in the Premier League in recent weeks.
The most notable recent contentious decision was the Patrick Bamford goal disallowed in the match between Crystal Palace and Leeds United in the Premier League.
The offside line drawn by VAR sees Bamford captured in a still with his left arm pointing to where he wants the ball placed. The offside decision was deemed as ridiculous by a number of pundits with many claiming this will take the enjoyment out of the game.
Patrick Bamford offside and other ‘flawed’ VAR decisions are ‘making a mockery’ of football, says former referees’ chief Keith Hackett
— i sport (@iPaperSport) November 8, 2020
The new handball laws have resulted in an increased number of penalties in the Premier League this season.
Referees along with VAR are awarding penalties now if the ball is seen to touch anywhere on the arm below the shoulder irrespective of whether it was intentional.
What we are seeing all too frequently in games is the ball striking the defenders arm at speed leaving the defender no opportunity to remove it.
It would appear common sense has been taken out of the laws of the game. The intention by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) to put these rules in place was to make adjudicating decisions by the referee and VAR easier. But by trying to remove the grey area they have made the rules of the game some-what ridiculous.
Before the start of the 2020-21 season IFAB confirmed the following rules:
“If the ball hits a player who has made their body “unnaturally bigger” then a foul will be awarded. IFAB determine that a hand/arm above shoulder height is rarely a “natural position” with some exceptions such as when a player is falling permitted.
IFAB says that having the hand/arm above shoulder height is rarely a “natural” position and a player is “taking a risk” by having the hand/arm in that position.
Extra leeway will be permitted when it comes to ricocheted handballs when it comes off a nearby player of if they cannot see the ball”.
Marginal offside calls, such as an armpit or a toe being offside, will continue after the Premier League stated: “The protocol does not allow for tolerance levels”.
If an immediate goalscoring opportunity occurs, assistant referees will refrain from raising their flag until the passage of play is completed. The decision will then be checked at Stockley Park.
Referee Review Area
Increased use of the RRA – the area where TV monitors are available to the referee to check VAR calls – will be encouraged on decisions regarding goals, red cards and penalty kicks.
For the good of the game as a spectacle to be enjoyed common sense must prevail. There is no doubt correct decisions are important in football as they are in all competitive sports but this notion that perfection in every decision is a necessity will take the enjoyment away.
A balance is required between making correct decisions and maintaining the game as a spectacle.
The most euphoric moment for the fans in a football match is when a goal is scored. But that moment is taken away from the scorer and the fans because there is more often than not some form of VAR check that has to take place.
So many are reluctant to immediately celebrate a goal until it’s clear the goal has passed the VAR test.
Decisions on offside must be made by the officials on the pitch with no reference to VAR. The previous rules must be applied, putting the onus back on the assistants and referees to spot clear and obvious players in offside positions. If the referee has any doubts against their assistant then he should refer to the pitch side monitor for clarity.
VAR must only be used as a secondary support process for fouls leading to goals and contentious straight red cards.
IFAB must think further about the handball rules and allow referees to use common sense in their decision making. With the ability to rewatch the incident on the pitchside monitors referees should be able to determine if a handball is intentional.
The technology we have at our disposal in the game of football provides support and assistance with determining decisions. If used correctly and with good reason then there is no doubt the clarity will help referees. GLT is a perfect example of this. It’s effective in its quick response and accurate.
What’s spoiling the game and muddying the waters is more the rule makers and not the application of technology.