Is VAR Working? And if not, what should be done about it?

Is VAR working? And if not, what should be done about it?

I would love to hear what you think about this. Please let me know in the "Comments" section below.

The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has caused lots of controversy in the Women's World Cup during the two weeks of group play. And this only increased during yesterday's England v Cameroon Round of 16 game.

There has been controversy over offside calls, goalkeepers moving off their line when facing a penalty kick, and judgement calls for fouls and other offences.

Let's break this down into those three types of calls.

Offside Calls
I haven't seen every game, but of the games I have watched, the offside calls looked at with VAR have all been correct in my opinion. There are two issues that I think are causing the controversy with VAR offside calls.

Some of them have been incredibly close calls and the team/fans on the wrong end of these calls have sometimes felt hard done by. But there should be no controversy with this. If a player is offside even by just a hair, then they are offside and as frustrating as it is, the team/fans just need to accept it and get over it. There is no controversy with these calls, just teams/fans venting frustration if they are on the wrong end of these calls.

The NFL and pro tennis, both have the same incredibly close calls made by video replay that decide their points and games, yet no one seems to make a big fuss when it happens. It's just accepted as being correct.

Now there has been at least one instance where there has been some question about what exactly is offside. After the VAR review showed the attacking player's feet behind the offside line but their arm/shoulder was on the line and offside was given. Well this is not a VAR issue, it's an issue of offside law needing to be clarified or the VAR correctly interpreting the offside law.

Goalkeeper Moving Off the Line on Penalty Kicks
Again, every one of these calls that I have seen have been correct as far as I can see. I can understand it feeling incredibly harsh after saving the penalty kick as Scotland did in their game against Argentina, and then Argentina scoring on the retake. But as the law stands, VAR overturning the save from the first penalty kick was correct. What magnified this decision was that it was late in the game and the decision sent Argentina into the last 16 and at the same time eliminated Scotland from the last 16.

The letter of the law was also followed when France took a penalty against Nigeria and missed, hitting it wide of the post. But VAR determined that the Nigerian goalkeeper moved off the line so the kick was taken again with France scoring this time.  This extremely harsh but it is the law.

My opinion is, that if the player misses the penalty kick by hitting it wide or over the crossbar, then then the goalkeeper shouldn't be punished if they happen to encroach in front of their line. But that would need a change of the law.

Actually, it might be prudent to find some way of changing the law about the goalkeeper moving off the line too, as this seems to be a momentum movement for the goalkeeper in making the save, and although I'm no goalkeeper, it would seem that having to focus on keeping at least one foot on the goal line during a PK, would take the focus away from actually making the save.

So, just like the VAR offside calls, the GK moving off the line on PK's have all been correct. It's just that the GK moving off the line calls, don't feel right. In fact, they feel incredibly wrong. And I don't think I'm on my own with this feeling.

Even FIFA are figuring out that something needs changing. In the middle of this World Cup, FIFA have announced they will no longer caution the GK for moving off the line for a PK with a yellow card. So there is hope they will figure out that they need to go further and give the GK more room to make their PK saves.

Judgement Calls
I don't know where to start with this one. I have just finished watching the England v Cameroon game and in my opinion, the VAR got three judgement calls wrong. It might be because I'm English, but I think I'm looking at this from a rational viewpoint. Also, these are judgement calls. So, many people could watch the same video replays from the same angles and come up with different opinions. I understand that and I know we can't get all to agree on any judgement call.

Call One - Early in the game, A Cameroon player elbowed an England player. The VAR caught this and the ref gave the player a yellow card. In my opinion, if someone purposely elbows another player in the face, it is a red card offense. So a yellow card seems strange to me.

Call Two - late in the game, a Cameroon player had a late challenge in the penalty area and kicked the England player on the foot or stood on her foot. The England player still managed to get her pass off a fraction before the late challenge. The VAR gave no foul for this and I thought it was a clear foul.

Call Three - At the end of the game, a Cameroon player had a late challenge on an England player right near the coaches area. It seemed to be very late with some nasty intent. After VAR, the ref gave a yellow card. Again, I thought this was a red card offense.

So what can be done about judgement calls?

One option is to not have judgement calls done by VAR. Why? Well, if there is still going to be VAR decisions on judgement calls questioned, then we might as well leave it for the ref make the decisions, avoid delays in the game and we will question them just as we always have.

Or we could take a cue from the NFL. No system seems to be perfect. But the NFL policy on video replays is that they stick with referee's decision unless the video replay gives clear evidence to overturn it. So it's not a case of looking at the video replays and trying to come up with a decision. The decision has already been made by the referee, and only clear evidence on the video replays can change this.

While I'm on the subject of the NFL, I think FIFA would do well to copy the NFL and should also do a video review of every game once it's finished. The purpose of this is to catch any offenses that the ref doesn't catch. Diving for instance, or a yellow card that should have been a red card, etc. Then players/teams can be fined/penalized for these offenses and they would be careful about trying to get away with things in games knowing it will be reviewed afterwards.

Technology is supposed to help and improve the game, but how it is used is critical.

I would love to hear your thoughts. What do you think?

And while you are here check out my post on VAR and how diving is killing the game.

Mike Saif

About the Author Mike Saif

Jason dobson says June 24, 2019

As a referee and coach it is working but it should be like rugby and called VR(video referee) when it goes to video when they make the call they should then tell referee what offence is and that should be it instead of going upstairs then back to referee who then go to the telly off pitch

Sasa Kostic says June 24, 2019

My name is Sasa .Already member os WCC a long time. I can say that i have enough professional experience and quaprofessional qualifications qualifications
that give me a righ to say that VAR took away the sense of reality what football needs to be .
I agree with you .
Thank you

John Ryding says June 24, 2019

While I agree with you on the offside, I think the problem is that the flow of the game is seriously interrupted and there are big swings in emotion among supporters. Take the second leg of the Champions League quarter final between Manchester City and Tottenham. It looked like City had scored with two minutes left in the game, tying it up at 4-4 and putting City through on aggregate. Then the reversal. When the flag goes up, everyone can see that a judgment has been made. Now I agree that the reversal calls have been correct but some have been very tight–for example the England Netherlands semi final in the Nations League. If it is so tight that a human wouldn’t see it, then there is something of a too-close-to-call aspect of the play. Now ARs are keeping the flag down even when a play is clearly offside, which is just creating more issues. We need the equivalent of an offside hawk-eye system (no one complains about the goal-line decision mechanisms) and maybe with developments in AI it will come in a few years. Until then VAR is going to cause complaints.

Steve weyman says June 24, 2019

I like VAR because it will get more right decisions than wrong. Must be done quicker . I agree that both offside decisions were right to the letter of the law and the Cameroon players should have been booked for arguing and holding up game. The 3 decisions it failed on I agree with you . Sending off for deliberate elbow . Penalty for stamping on foot and dangerous late tackle red card . What’s worrying is that who ever was making Var decisions didn’t flag deliberate elbow and the other two incidents. Referee and assistants to blame for those incidents too.

Terry Laing says June 24, 2019

At moment VAR is running the game.
Any decision to use VAR should be called by the on pitch officials
NOT as is at moment the tv watching officials.
Or maybe I could fone up and ask the ref to review something I disagree with.
On pitch officials should regain control of the game.

Steve weyman says June 24, 2019

I like VAR because it will get more right decisions than wrong. Must be done quicker . I agree that both offside decisions were right to the letter of the law and the Cameroon players should have been booked for arguing and holding up game. The 3 decisions it failed on I agree with you . Sending off for deliberate elbow . Penalty for stamping on foot and dangerous late tackle red card . Referee and assistants to blame for those incidents too.

Keith says June 24, 2019

My biggest issue with VAR is the amount of time it takes (stoppage of play, interruption to flow of the game), especially when the referee makes the original call and call is confirmed correct. Many of the decisions such as Offside calls can be seen in real time, and the AR and Referee get the call right from the beginning yet VAR takes several minutes to look at every angle only to confirm the call made on the field. If the evidence is not clear and convincing in less than a minute then go with the call on the field and move on. There should not be 7+ minutes of stoppage time in a half all because VAR is taking too long to re-confirm calls the Referee has already made.

Hakeem Olayemi says June 24, 2019

I totally agree with your position on the VAR issue and the recommendations suggested.
God bless you sir.

Stuart Smith says June 24, 2019

You miss one vital point as I understand it.
VAR has been introduced to eliminate clear and obvious errors and not marginal decisions or decisions of opinion. Most of the cases you mention are not clear and obvious errors. The biggest one being the disallowed Cameroon goal, it’s the minutest fraction offside. Yes it is offside but that is not the point of VAR plus while I know the England 2nd goal wasn’t offside according to law. It has to be more offside under VAR than the Cameroon’s goal

Brad Ackles says June 24, 2019

Mike, I tend to agree with you, especially the Cameroon-England match. You didn’t mention the spitting incident either, which the referee didn’t want to hear. I will end by saying what I think is not being said about VAR, and that in the end it’s all left up to a human to decide. Humans are going to error, because we’re human. VAR lays it out for a decision to be made or not made. In the end, it comes right back to the referee to make. Overall, it needs tweaking, but I think it’s good for the game once that happens. Thanks!

Jonathan Dyer says June 24, 2019

I really dislike the way VAR is being used. It is training the refs and assistant refs NOT to make calls. Repeatedly we have heard how AR’s are told NOT to call offside because it will be reviewed if they score anyway. Numerous times there have been moments where the game was stopped not because of a call, but a VAR on something that the center didn’t call.
The game really has lost its flow, and eventually there will be no refs if they continue to NOT make calls simply because VAR will review.

here is my fix: VAR is used only on reviewing ACTUAL calls. This forces the refs to be refs, and allows for VAR to limit their scope and keeps the game flowing. This is mostly consistent with the way other sports use it, too.

Finally, I would also institute a post-game review (as you suggested) to catch and fine/suspend anything that WASN’T caught by the refs. But we need to keep the refs relevant and part of the game.

David Duncan says June 24, 2019

I agree with your comments. I also believe that the the NFL and Tennis have done this for long enough for FIFA to change some rules. VAR spoiled the ENG v CAM game. And I am English.
1. Stick with referee’s decision unless the video replay gives clear evidence to overturn it.
2. Managers have three challenges or calls for VAR in the game. One in extra time.
3. VAR should be used if a goal is scored, as it is now.
4. If the referees miss a call, unless the Manager uses one of her cards, VAR should not be used.

That’s what I think.

Frank Coorey says June 24, 2019

No, The Human Element of the game has been taken out of the game. Players make bad decisions and so do the referees! Before long they will rid themselves of Referees and use AI. This is bad for the game, as it has slowed the pace of play. Should only be used for confirming goals.

Michael says June 24, 2019

Hi Mike
Yes – I’m having problems with the judgement calls as well because here in Australia the non-soccer football codes also take the approach that the referee’s call stands unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. The same approach is also used in world cricket by all the international teams, i.e. the ruling mst be CLEARLY wrong for it to be overturned.
And other situations where no action was taken at the WWC include the opposition player spitting on the English player and a clear hint of a handball by a Norwegian player in the box against Australia (where no VAR was even used).
regards Michael

joe mcgrath says June 25, 2019

The Offside VAR calls which I think have been incorrect have been the ones where the offside player has been judged to be not active/interferring with play. One was the last USA group game, a player was offside next to the centrespot, this caused the defender to take action. But as play progressed this action led to a goal.
Another was the own goal vs Australia, the defender had to make the header (into own next unfortunately) because the Australia striker was in a challenging position, therefore active/interfering
USA 2nd penalty vs Spain. I don’t think VAR clarified whether there had been “sufficient” contact to warrant a foul
Certainly the offside / active rule needs to be clarified, because the defenders react if a striker is close.
Late flagging by linesmen is also an issue in my opinion

Lebby says June 25, 2019

I personally feel VAR has given referees a chance to cheat even more. It has been said the calls should be undisputed. But there are still calls where I’m left wondering what the referee saw.

Gregg Tucker says June 26, 2019

To me VAR has been frustrating, my biggest problem is that outcomes have been depending on these calls. Some of them I would have made a different call and feel bad for the teams that it went against. I understand there may be bugs but should have been ironed it out before the World Cup. I think this is an embaressment for FIFA. I wouldn’t quite put the NFL on a pedestal. just ask the New Orleans Saints.

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