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VAR is changing decision making in football to the detriment of the fairness of the sport

There seems to be almost universal agreement that the way that it is currently being used in the Premier League (EPL) is bad for Football, writes Toby Perkins MP.

4 min read

Changes are needed both to the rules of the game and the operation of VAR; crucially, there needs to be a review and re-design of the offside rule

It feels somewhat incongruous that as the country’s attention is focussed on the Coronavirus and Football has come to a stop, that Parliament should be debating a non-life threatening matter like Video Assisted referees and its impact on Football attendances.

In fact, I had been attempting to get a debate in Parliament on this subject in the fortnightly ballot for several weeks and it is somewhat unfortunate timing that this debate was finally drawn out in this of all weeks.

Nonetheless, there will be a day when Coronavirus is in the past, and some of the 650 MPs taking a moment away from the daily statements on Coronavirus to discuss this, really isn’t going to harm the national response.

And it is worthwhile reminding ourselves that when normality returns, Football and the Premier League is a hugely important national export and economic contributor as well as being a culturally significant part of what makes Britain great.

So, VAR and it’s impact on football is an important debate to have. There seems to be almost universal agreement that the way that it is currently being used in the Premier League (EPL) is bad for Football, but less uniformity of opinion about whether it is a good idea done badly or just a bad idea.

My personal view is that the moment a goal is scored is the most precious commodity that Football possesses. The rarity of goals is in fact one of the things that sets the world’s most popular sport aside from all the others and so the secondary pause to check that the linesman doesn’t have his flag up before the wild celebrations commence is as integral to Football supporters as anything else.

To rob Football fans of that moment is to rob Football of the very essence of what it means to be a Football fan. To enjoy the celebrations and then the desperate dawning on those celebrating fans that maybe it isn’t a goal after all.

The ground stops to watch a purple screen and opposing fans momentarily unite in chanting ‘F**k V.A.R” until eventually a faceless person informs us which set of fans can now commence celebrations.

It is for this reason that I will never believe that more perfect decision making will ever make VAR worth it. But like other forms of ‘progress’, that have made good things less good, I expect that for armchair fans and pundits, the purity of the decision making will trump the moment of celebration and so VAR is likely in some sort of form to remain.

If that is the case, then there are changes needed both to the rules of the game and the operation of VAR, if it is going to be anything other than a huge drag on the appeal of a hugely successful product.

Most crucially, the offside law needs reviewing. New referees and linesmen were always taught that ‘if you’re level you’re on’ as the rules state. In real time that made sense, but in the VAR era, it now means that if at the moment the screen is frozen one player’s toe is a millimetre beyond another player’s the goal is disallowed. This is not what the offside rule was designed to outlaw and it needs re-writing to return to the original principle that if two players are fundamentally level then the striker is considered to be onside.

Secondly, fans must be involved in the process as other sports have managed, with the pictures being viewed by the referee, also available for fans to see.

Thirdly, the referee is the referee, and he should view the original pictures and if he is certain that a clear and obvious error was made, only at that moment should a decision be altered.

Finally, VAR is changing the decision making to the detriment of the fairness of the sporting contest. Linesmen not flagging when they believe a player is probably offside gives an unfair advantage to the attacking side which can lead to a corner coming from a player who should have been given offside, then leading to a goal.

There are many other arguments that will be made during the debate, but it is a worthwhile, if unfortunately timed one, to have.


Toby Perkins is the Labour Member of Parliament for Chesterfield.

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