VAR acceptance in global football appears, at the moment, hinges on something miraculous. Instead of alleviating the referees of being the centre of attention by having help from another official as well as being able to watch back plays, the video technology has simply placed more emphasis on the whole process.
It is a magnifying glass through which the previous complaints fans had – about inconsistent decisions, for instance – are only made clearer, are made easier to scrutinise.
Pierluigi Collina, one of the most famous and celebrated referees who made sure each player knew exactly what was what, offered his opinion to FIFA for how best to use VAR. He suggested that on-field decisions, unless there is conclusive evidence for overturning it, stand. Whatever the referee had initially called should stand unless it is totally obvious that they are wrong.
Also, especially in the case of the Premier League, pitch-side monitors should be used more often by on-field referees, as opposed to relying on VAR referee to make those judgement calls. This would allow a certain authority to exist on the pitch, a support system for the referee in charge, as opposed to the current hierarchy of the VAR referee holding the on-field referee’s decision to their standard of truth. Whether this alleviates the issue of VAR is tough to know. Acceptance, in general, it appears, may be down to fatigue.
Change is hard to accept but often happens anyway. Many sports have had to undergo it, especially as investments arrive and the market changes. Poker is a historical change. It has been played for centuries. Recently, it has migrated and been translated to a digital format. Providers like GGPoker have turned traditional poker into a booming online market. They entice traditionalists and new customers with an exclusive GGPoker bonus to see for themselves how similar and different digital poker is.
There will be resistance for those who believe in the fundamentals of the in-person version, of watching bodily gestures and having a real-life table dealer. However, there are those who believe the way digital poker is played is better for them, namely that it is played at a much higher pace and can be accessed more conveniently.
The two versions have a complex relationship. They compete with each other and they support each other. There is a lot of cross over. There will be hardcore fans, loyal to one or the other. Largely, though, it’s down to what experience the customer wants. That customer can also be a professional player.
Football is a global sport which has differentiated itself. There are 5-a-side, 7-a-side, and futsal variations which cater to amateurs, semi-professionals, and professionals. There is an audience for all of them. However, what the authorities push, and what the millions who watch and follow the sport want, is the 11-a-side traditional game. It is where the money is and where the eyeballs are. What the sport can change to accommodate customers who play is different to what it is willing to do for its best products: the five major European leagues and Europe’s Champions League.
VAR is part of a wider system of change that FIFA, UEFA, and league associations are beginning to instil. It is a time of attempted change, where the status quo is being challenged, but there appears, at this moment, to be a struggle to know how best to improve what needs to be improved. VAR, though, is the only on-field change which the authorities are attempting to truly implement.
Competition changes obviously affect who is on the pitch and how the sport is represented, but VAR changes the expectations and consequence of every goal, every contact. It changes the environment those who manage the field: the referees. VAR should be forgiving, allow them to correct mistakes, but, it appears, that quite the opposite is happening, but Collina’s solution may give them the responsibility and impetus to manage their outcomes and be more decisive.