Sport Editor Charlotte Cohen discusses the recent controversy surrounding VAR in the Premier League and why it seems to be failing football fans across the UK.
I know you’re all probably as sick of hearing about VAR as you are about Brexit, but I couldn’t let this one pass me by without giving my two cents. Sheffield United, a recently promoted side, are storming the Premier League at the moment and are on their way towards a Europa League place if things stay the same. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: over the weekend they took on 2018 Champions League finalists Tottenham Hotspur who, it appeared, were going to win comfortably, but appearances can be misleading. It was in fact United who should have come out on top, if it weren’t for VAR.
Although ending in a draw, which I’m sure any Sheffield United fan should be pretty chuffed with, it’s still infuriating to lose out on a win because of something out of the team’s control. Fifteen minutes into the second half, Son put the home side ahead, but it wasn’t long before they were level, courtesy of fan-favourite David McGoldrick. The celebrations were then cut short as VAR ruled out the goal for offside.
VAR – Video Assistant Referee – is supposed to be (you guessed it!) an assistant referee. One of two situations can trigger the use of VAR: either the referee informs the VAR or VAR informs the referee that a decision needs to be reviewed. VAR then reviews the incident on video and relay to the referee, through their headset, what the video shows. The referee can then decide either to review the incident on the screen at the side of the pitch, or accept the decision from VAR and take appropriate action. In the Premier League, VAR is used to check every goal for an offside offence in the buildup, and this Saturday’s game at White Hart Lane was no exception. The goal went in, the players and fans erupted, then VAR intervened and denied the goal. A clear and obvious error it was not. Despite McGoldrick being onside throughout the buildup, a matter of millimetres separated John Lundstram’s toe and an onside position. Eventually, after a three-minute VAR check, it was deemed to be offside.
There were outpourings of anger and frustration on social media on Saturday evening, and not just from the justifiably disgruntled Sheffield United fans, but from ex-players and pundits across the UK, all of whom simply could not comprehend why VAR was getting it so wrong. Not everything is as transferable as the famous vanishing spray that we see in most fixtures today. VAR’s first official test was the World Cup, and it worked well.
As Gary Lineker put it back in 2018, “it’s making the most mundane of games more dramatic.” The Premier League this season has been dramatic enough, without the addition of VAR. Did I mention Sheffield United were fifth in the league, a mere eight points behind 2018 champions Manchester City?
Okay, so I think we’ve established VAR is bad, at least for right now. Great, but what’s next? Getting rid of it altogether also seems like a bad idea. So what do we do? Clear and obvious, that’s the main theme that we want to convey. A three- or four-minute review doesn’t strike me as clear and obvious. Thirty seconds seems to me, and the world of Twitter, to be enough time for VAR or a physical human referee to make a decision. If it can’t be done in thirty seconds then let’s leave it at that.
I know what you might be thinking: since when did I work for the FA? And truly, who am I to judge the decisions of the official governing body of football?
However I, like every other person criticising the recent actions of VAR, am a lover of football. If the game is not played for people like me, if the VAR decisions are not to make the game fairer to the teams and therefore the fans, then who is it really for? Football is for the fans, and if they’re unhappy, surely it’s time to make a change.