January 19th 2018
A Bridge Too VAR

This week we’ve seen the best and worst of VAR. On Tuesday, Kelechi Iheanacho of Leicester City became the first player to score a goal, thanks to a Video Assistant Referee.  The decision to disallow his strike against Fleetwood in the FA Cup was overturned by the official who was watching on at the Premier League match centre out by Heathrow Airport.

Lines across the pitch proved the goal was clearly onside – albeit it was a difficult one for the ref to spot – and the right outcome was achieved.

The following night it was a different story. Chelsea V Norwich featured a booking for Willian for diving when by common consent there was enough doubt for at least  the yellow card not to be shown, whether a penalty was given or not.

Then to make matters worse, Alvaro Morata went down in the last minute, was booked for diving and then was booked again (presumably for telling the referee what he thought of his decision).

Alan Shearer, one of the pundits on BBC was soon raging: “I was very doubtful about [VAR] and now it’s a shambles,” he raged. “We all think it’s a clear and obvious penalty. That’s why it’s all wrong, because it’s someone else’s opinion and that’s why it’s a shambles,” said the former striker, clearly angry about the whole thing.

Allowing for the obvious fact that Shearer’s comments clearly come from a place of bias (being “doubtful” he was also looking for it to go wrong) there are some clear areas of concern.

Firstly, even if the referee , Graham Scott, was seen not to have made a “clear and obvious error” was he not too quick to book Willian? But that is human error not a technological one.

Then there is a practical point. If, say, the Morata one had been overturned (and although the challenge didn’t look enough to bring him down, it did come into the “I’ve seen them given” category) presumably the first booking is overturned too? Or is he still sent off for eff-ing and blinding at the match official as he must have done?

These things are just a trial; these instances are going to come up in a trial situation, that’s what it was for. However events this week do perhaps show that football isn’t ready to embrace technology.

There has been much talk along the lines of “well, they have it in cricket.” And they do, but there are two key differences. First, in cricket they deal with matters of fact such as did the ball hit the bat, was it going to hit the stumps and so forth. Even more crucially, perhaps, there is a natural break every ten seconds or so. In football there is not.

Football doesn’t lend itself to technology for those reasons. 10 football fans can watch that Willian penalty claim and come to different opinions and probably ten refs too. Using goal line technology as has been happening recently is fine. It has either gone over the line or it has not, there are no grey areas.

Whatever you say about what happened on Wednesday – and the disgraceful dive from Pedro went rather more under the radar than it should have – it threw up more questions than answers.

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