The use of technology in sports is a hot topic that has been discussed by fans in just about every sporting discipline. The inclusion of technology, particularly when making crucial decisions in a game, comes with a lot of positives as well as negatives. For fans of the beautiful game, the use of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) faced arguably it’s toughest test following the third round of matches in the English Premier League, as there were a few decisions that would have baffled even the most casual spectators.
The drama started in the contest between Brighton & Hove Albion and Manchester United, where the match was resumed after the final whistle to award the Red Devils a penalty. Admittedly, there was an infringement in the box that warranted the spot kick, but it was missed by the referee and assistant referees on the field, and as such he blew the whistle to end the game. To the surprise of many, the finality of that action was tossed aside as he was advised by VAR to review the play, and subsequently he made his ruling on the penalty. It was later revealed that VAR can in fact intervene to have play resumed, and the “final whistle” that supporters have come to accept for decades instantly and strangely became conditional. Bruno Fernandes dispatched the resulting spot kick with aplomb, Man United gratefully walked away with the three points, while fans the world over were left in a state of confusion.
Another moment of debate was Newcastle being awarded a penalty in their match against Tottenham Hotspur. This happened after Eric Dier was adjudged to have handled the ball even though it was evident there was no intent to do so. The fact that Dier couldn’t even see the ball made it that more puzzling when VAR decided to punish him for the ball hitting his arm. Callum Wilson converted the resulting penalty, the match ended in a draw, and Spurs were left to feel that they were robbed of two points.
Throughout the course of a game (regardless of the sport) calls will be missed. Depending on where your allegiance lies, your reactions to this will vary, and that’s just the way it is. Well, the way it was… Now it seems there is an over-reliance on technology by officials to make key decisions, arguably destroying the way fans enjoy the beautiful game.
The tools introduced to make the game more efficient have so far failed at making the game enjoyable. The long delays to verify an offside call or a goal have irritated coaches, players, and fans alike. The immediate cheers and celebrations that usually follow a goal have somewhat been suppressed by the need to verify whether or not the attacker’s shoulder is 1 centimeter ahead of the defender.
Technology was introduced to reduce the human error, but all it has done is seemingly shift the ridicule from the man on the pitch to the man in the studio. Maybe (and it’s a huge maybe) it would be easier for fans to accept VAR if the rulings made were consistent right across the board. In fact, the only inkling of consistency there is, is the shocking nature of the calls. This only serves to heighten the level of frustration. The fact that “LiVARpool” became common lingo during Liverpool’s their title-winning campaign brought to light that whether justified or not, those supporters believed that they benefited more than others.
Though aided by technology, the choice to intervene (or not) is still dependent on that individual’s discretion. A case in point was last season’s massive blunder in the match between Sheffield United and Aston Villa. Sheffield managed to score from a direct free kick but the goal was not awarded by the referee because goal-line technology failed to send a signal to the referee’s watch. Despite clear evidence in the replays that a goal should have been given, VAR did not intervene, and the match ended in a 0-0 draw. Considering that Villa survived relegation by a single point, above Bournemouth and Watford, that blunder proved to be quite significant.
Shouldn’t VAR be properly utilized to ensure that such major blunders don’t occur, as opposed to some of the seemingly trivial incidents that are investigated? The sport’s governing bodies would be wise to ensure that in their quest to get more of the calls right, they don’t make it unwatchable.