For any sporting fan, the referee is rarely a popular figure. When they make decisions that benefit our team we’re happy but suggest it was obvious. However when they make other decisions, there’s normally a torrent of abuse or criticism. Basically it’s a very difficult job and one where you really can’t win. If anyone has sat on the touchline of any football game and listed to the comments a referee or assistant gets then you’d be amazed that anyone actually wanted to do the job.
For years now though technology has been creeping into all sorts of sports, primarily aimed at assisting the officials in particularly difficult or crucial decisions. No major sport really relies completely on humans currently although some sports use computers and technology more than others.
Football has always been one of the front runners in utilizing technology partly because it is one of the richest sports in the world of course. The latest development is the Video Assistant Referee system (also known as VAR) which is being trialed in various leagues across Europe at the moment.
My first encounter was watching the Tottenham Vs Rochdale FA Cup final which was broadcast last month. However watching it on Match of the Day online, here’s how to from abroad, It did little to reduce controversy during the match in fact it did quite the opposite.
It’s first appearance was when Spurs took an early lead, yet after consulting the VAR the goal was ruled out. The reason was rather unclear but it appears a foul was committed in the build up to the goal. However a few minutes later VAR was consulted again and confirmed a penalty which was duly scored. Again the decision looked fairly dubious after the event and it certainly lead to some long delays in the game.
The VAR operates on three stages – incident, review and decision. It is supposed to be used in only four specific category of decisions which are deemed ‘game changing’. It’s not designed to be used frequently and VAR should only be used to check serious omissions and only in match changing situations. All the officials involved in the game can recommend consulting VAR but only the referee can initiate the process.
The referee is the only person who can decide whether the original decision should be altered by the VAR system or ignored. Indeed the referee can also use the option to review television footage themselves on a pitch side monitor. This is usually a last resort though as it obviously causes substantial delays to the game and it’s flow.
The sort of areas that the VAR is designed for are things like goals, penalties and serious incidents which could lead to red cards. All these can lead to the result being directly affected