The introduction of a VAR (Video Assistant Referee) has been one of the most controversial and divisive introductions to soccer we’ve ever seen. With many people criticizing the VAR since it became widely used in 2017, we thought we should have a look at what seems to have got players, fans, and managers so angry.
We’re going to weigh up the seven pros and cons of the Video Assistant Referee and try to take an honest look at why this technology seems to have divided the soccer world. On the face of it, VAR seems to be a great idea.
Every soccer fan who has ever seen a game can remember at least one onfield injustice that, had the referee had access to instant video replays, would have been overturned on review.
So why, now that every significant soccer nation has embraced VAR, are the debates still raging?
Let’s first look a the pros of VAR.
1. VAR Increases Fan Engagement
Fans love a controversial decision and happily lend their voice to anything that could annoy an opposing team. When a decision has to go to the VAR, the fans get a few seconds to voice their glee or rage, often at the top of their voices.
Recent years have shown that when it’s time for the VAR, the noise inside stadiums noticeably rises as fans of both teams vent their frustrations. It’s already become a part of the game and has added a new and fun dimension to a live soccer game.
The will they/won’t they scenario plays out in real-time as the referee strides to the TV monitor to re-watch a potential foul or infringement.
The fans get to see this happening, and then the result of the VAR decision is confirmed over the large screen for the fans to cheer or boo, the final decision.
2. Players Are Less Prone To Off-The-Ball Violence
A player who once may have gotten away with a cheeky kick on an opponent can no longer guarantee they’ll get away with it. Before VAR, a referee had to have eyes in the back of their head; now, cameras act as their eyes and ears.
It’s certainly made it harder for players to get away with serious fouls and abusive behavior. Because players can no longer guarantee they won’t be punished during the game, they’re less prone to random violence during games.
3. Referees Can Enforce Discipline More Easily
VAR allows referees to monitor and administer justice during games quickly. With an extra set of eyes on the field, the referee can focus on the game’s running rather than trying to see every tackle.
Once a referee has been informed of an issue, they can quickly and easily refer to the pitchside monitor and make quick, accurate decisions on the best course of action.
In theory, a referee has never been so well-equipped to manage a fast-paced game of soccer.
4. Rectifies Wrong Decisions Immediately
Despite the hatred that is often aimed at referees by fans, players, managers, and even pundits, it’s an incredibly difficult and thankless job to do. Just as players and managers make mistakes, so too do referees, but finally, thanks to VAR, mistakes can be rectified.
Because VAR is dealt with in real-time, any missed fouls or infringements can be spotted immediately by the dozens of cameras, fed to the Video Assistant, and then relayed to the referee on the pitch.
5. Doesn’t Slow The Game Down
The real-time action replays that the VAR sees mean that a game shouldn’t need to be slowed down too much in theory.
Anything the referee misses can be spotted afterward by the VAR, and then play can if need be, be brought back to the area of the pitch the foul was made.
This allows for a much more free-flowing game of soccer, where the focus can be on the players and the game itself.
Fans have a more enjoyable experience and also have the added bonus that even if the fans themselves saw an issue that the referee missed, they know that the VAR will see it and then react accordingly.
6. VAR is Impartial
Referees are only human at the end of the day, and should a team start playing a tactical game or crowd the referee demanding or complaining, it’s only natural for a referee to lean towards the other team. It shouldn’t happen, but it does, and it can cause issues.
With the advent of VAR, impartiality is now par for the course; a picture paints a thousand words, as they say, but an action replay that’s literally 30 seconds old says even more. Anything the VAR sees is factual; a foul did or didn’t happen, and a player is or isn’t offside.
This impartiality means there’s no favoritism; each team has as much chance as the other for a fair call to be made.
If a player is offside, that’s it, and the players know that there can be no argument whether they’re happy about it or not. The discussion is over if the video replay shows they’re too far forward.
7. VAR is Here to Stay
Like it or loathe it, VAR isn’t going anywhere, so it’s better all round if players and fans get used to it. It makes games fair, protects players, referees, and results, and is easy to understand.
A referee can miss something vital in the thick of the action, or a fast counter means they’re suddenly out of position, but VAR is always on hand to help out the officials.
Now that VAR is integrated into modern soccer, it has become part of the game. When a decision needs making, fans and players alike demand that VAR intervene, so these same fans and players can’t say that “VAR is ruining the game occasionally.”
If the decision is the right one and is always the right one due to being caught on video, then the game evens out. If the ball looks like it crossed the line, but we can’t be sure, then VAR is infallible, which makes it fair for both teams.
1. VAR Still Gets it Wrong
Despite multiple camera angles and several assistants sitting in the VAR room, decisions still need to be made that seem, or at least feel, incorrect.
While rules are rules, and to the best of their ability, the VAR tries to follow these rules, it’s still a human on the other side of the screen making decisions.
Like all decisions made by a human, opinions vary from person to person. A decision that’s made in one game is dismissed in another, which infuriates the fans and clubs alike; the whole point of the introduction of VAR was to bring uniform consistency to soccer, and that’s not happened.
2. VAR Eliminates the Controversy
Soccer fans love being able to complain and criticize decisions made by officials; it’s an age-old right enjoyed by fans from Angola to New Zealand. As long as two teams go head to head, a decision will either go for or against your team.
And the fans love that about soccer, which is why VAR is viewed with such mistrust. If someone takes away any controversy from the game, it’s less enjoyable for the fans.
It’s a catch-22 scenario, though, as, during the game, the fans demand the right decisions are made by the referee but are also acutely aware that the injustice of a missed foul in the penalty area is part of the game.
3. VAR Takes Ages to Make a Decision
One major issue with VAR is the stop/start nature of how decisions are made. It’s not uncommon for a game to be stopped several minutes after an infringement has been made, only to force the play back to its original point.
It confuses fans, infuriates managers, and makes it hard for players to keep the game’s rhythm flowing.
At times players will be stood around for several minutes waiting for a decision to be made, as the referee has to go and check the VAR monitor.
The video assistant referee will check and double-check the foul or offside. The fans become restless, and the players lose momentum.
If it’s a goal that is being checked, then players, instead of celebrating, have to stand around wondering for several minutes while the goal is reviewed. By the time a goal is given or ruled out, the excitement is often gone.
4. VAR Isn’t Uniform From one Game to the Next
As we’ve already stated, the VAR is only human, despite having multiple camera angles at their disposal, and as such, they’re prone to making mistakes.
That’s not unreasonable, but the issues arise when one game has an incident where a player is booked or a goal is deemed offside, and the resulting decision varies from game to game.
This randomness is infuriating when fans are already suspicious of a change to the game they love. Allegedly, VAR divisions are over 99% accurate, yet games are being played out week after week with decisions that baffle everyone involved.
Soccer shows that feature highlights of the day’s games make these errors glaringly apparent for all to see; in one game, the decision is a goal, and in the next, it’s disallowed.
Fans hate it; managers can and do lose their jobs based on results, so the issues surrounding an inaccurate VAR are one of the most hated aspects of this new addition to soccer.
5. Referees Can Override VAR, So What’s the Point?
Referees have always had the final say in soccer, and while that final say may not be the answer players and fans were hoping for, it’s always been the referee whose last word counted.
With the introduction of VAR, the referee still has the final say on any onfield issues but now has more options to choose from.
One issue surrounding the VAR is when play has been stopped for several minutes for the referee to check on the monitor for something the VAR has seen. It could be that the referee had already made a decision, only for VAR to request they review the footage on the pitchside monitor.
At this point, the referee has two options; they can either stick to their first decision or change their mind based on what they’ve seen on the monitor. If the referee doesn’t feel the VAR has justified the altered decision, they can simply override it.
So what’s the point of VAR? Why doesn’t the referee merely make the decisions as they’ve always done and allow the game to run more smoothly?
6. VAR Ruins the Passion and Spontaneity
A considerable debate rages that VAR is ruining the game of soccer because it removes the spontaneity and excitement from the game.
Soccer is about the players and the fans, and it always should be. VAR is turning soccer into a mechanical entity that sucks the humanity from the game.
Because soccer is such a massive worldwide business, clubs demand that each decision be accurate; final league standings, cup wins, and millions of dollars all ride on the referee’s decision during a game.
The argument that VAR makes everything level for everyone is technically valid; the problem is that because of the inaccuracies of VAR, it’s more that everyone suffers the same because of VAR rather than everyone benefitting from it. Referees always have taken abuse from fans, but
deep down, fans know the referees try their best and do a difficult job. But at least the referee is a person who humanizes the sport in a way that VAR can’t.
7. VAR Rules and Transparency
Because VAR is a relatively new addition to soccer, it’s inevitable that there have been teething issues.
As the technology and the use and interpretation of video analysis improve, VAR may well improve too. One problem with these changes is that fans and clubs can’t keep up with the rule changes.
Decisions change; what was once a foul now isn’t. An elbow offside now isn’t offside, or is it? Does the referee allow the play to continue, or do they stop it for a foul?
What if the referee allows the game to flow, but VAR stops it as the rules have changed? And who tells the fans? VAR is visible but incredibly opaque when it comes to understanding decisions made.
Fans and players often have to wait until after the game to understand why a decision has been made, which can leave them frustrated and confused. If the VAR can tell the entire stadium that a decision has been overruled, why can’t they tell the fans and players why?
There’s a negative for every positive we can find for the introduction on the VAR, but that’s just human nature. One person may find the additional suspense exciting, and another may hate that the game has been slowed down.
Whether you love the VAR or hate it, it’s here to stay, and hopefully, once the decisions become uniform from game to game, fans will embrace it.
When it works correctly, the additional support given to the referee is superb. The human errors still seem to pop up from time to time, which infuriates fans and players alike.
Currently, not every league has VAR, although most of the top divisions in world soccer now have access to the video assistant referee.
Once every league has the technology, and as players come into the game having never known a pre-VAR soccer world, it will become more widely accepted.
For now, we will all just have to admit that while, for the most part, VAR is great, there will be times when we wish we had never heard of the term VAR.