To be clear: I don’t like VAR. I find delay of any sort in a game a nuisance, and, as VAR is currently being utilized, it’s a nuisance with benefits that don’t outweigh the costs. I’m quite comfortable with the contingency of human mistakes. More or less, over the course of a season, I think the mistakes balance out in a way that basically leaves every team in the table about where they are supposed to be.
That said, I am also a realist, and as such, I know that VAR is here, in one form or another, permanently. So, given that as a starting point, I thought I would lay out a few considerations for what I would do as ruler of the soccer universe.
At the start, I want to note that if we must have VAR, (and I say this despite the knowledge that friends will laugh at me), let’s have VAR only for tournaments and never for league play. Here’s my logic: in the course of a season, the mistakes will even themselves out, (or even themselves out pretty much enough to make their bearing inconsequential). Over the course of 38 games, I find it difficult to believe that the calls make a difference in table position. That said, I do realize that most of you can point to an example when one single bad call toward the end of a game resulted in a win (or loss) of what would have been a draw. While during a season, this will likely not have much impact, in a tournament, such a call would “end one’s season.” So, there’s a lot more weight to individual officiating decisions during a tournament (especially during knock out rounds).
No one, however, seems to be taking up my “VAR for Tournaments” mantra, however, so let me move on to discuss a few changes we can make to VAR if, indeed, it must be used.
First, I think we can all agree that goal line technology is fine. I’ve never seen it miss a call from replays and, so far, I’ve never seen it make a call that’s led to controversy afterwards.
Secondly, VAR should only overturn the call on the field if there is clear evidence that the wrong call was made. And when I say clear evidence, I mean CLEAR. While I know this is the way it’s supposed to work in theory, it seems as if that is not the practice on the pitch. VAR is supposed to help us make the right calls, I get it. However, the presumption should be with the call on the field unless there is absolute evidence that it should be overturned. If the outcome of VAR means a call is made that still leads to arguments over whether or not the “right” call was made, I don’t see how we are better off. The idea is to make the right call that encourages everyone—fans, players, managers—to have faith in the integrity of the system. To overturn a call with evidence that is not completely clear is to undermine our faith in both the human element (i.e., the ref made the wrong call) and the technological element (i.e., “They used VAR and still made the wrong call”). Correct it when it is clear.
Finally, and this has a connection to the second point, VAR calls should be made in the booth (not by the official on the field) and be made within a fairly specific time limit. I’ll go with 20 seconds, but I could be persuaded to raise it or lower it by a little on either end). My logic is both that VAR should not interrupt the flow of the game and that a truly clear bad call should be spotted within a short time limit. If a goal is scored, and there is a question of offside that was not called on the field, figure it out within 20 seconds. If it takes longer than 20 seconds to do so, the call wasn’t clear and obvious to begin with. If we get into NFL styled slow-and-cautious-close-up-freeze-frames that take seemingly minutes for the official to make a determination, then it’s not clear and obvious by definition. So, again, if you can’t see it within 20 seconds, you stick with the call on the pitch.
All this said, I’m open to being persuaded. One of the reasons I loved soccer when I first started watching was the continuous flow of play, the acceptance of human mistakes from time to time to the degree that the game would continue. But, like any reasonable person, I think the right calls are preferable to the wrong ones. To the degree that the right calls can be made without interrupting the game, I’m all in. To the degree that the game is interrupted and calls are overturned on evidence that leaves us scratching our heads, I’m not sure what the benefit is.
The views expressed here are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Speedway Soccer as a whole.