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‘pon De Replay: In Favour Of Video Refs

This is a farce.

90 seconds between the initial whistle-blow and the decision being made. The actual screen being carried to pitch-side for inspection. Bloody hell.

For the first ever use of video replay in the professional game, it’s not confidence inspiring. Worse than that, it appears like it was purpose-designed to demonstrate every proposed failing of the process. It is a jaw-clenchingly drawn out process, not helped by the two commentators who could do with a lesson in brevity.

But then again, let’s look at the positives. The referee initially called for a free-kick and no card. After the replay, he issues a red to the defender. The time lag is the referee’s seeming hesitancy to use the new technology, 55 of those 90 seconds after the whistle has blown are the ref considering what he has seen and whether that justifies use of the replay. There are just 35 seconds between him drawing the square and issuing the card.

That’s not long. Not long at all. Especially if you consider that a referee who has a ‘I didn’t get a clear view’ from their touch official will spend less time um-ing and ah-ing over it.

In fact, given that it’s a trial – you can easily see a slicker setup reducing that time by maybe another 10 – 15 seconds. The referee still makes the final choice, no NRL bunker fiasco or interfering TMO getting into their ear while play is going on.

I get the complaints, the thin end of the wedge arguments that see teams being given challenges like in tennis or cricket. If the game is a beautiful one, it’s because it’s a mess of chance, possibility and outright cheating at times. If you can call football art, it’s a Jackson Pollock. And it will remain one, even with the video ref.

But at the highest level, the game has increased in speed beyond the capabilities of the six (SIX!) officials to view it*. Giving the referee the option to make a call to have another look at an incident, incidents which every supporter in the ground and at home will watch again and again and again while cursing the referee, isn’t the end of the world.

Bringing technology into the game won’t bring it to an end. It changes how it is watched, but not how it is played – it’s not like swapping the old leather cannonballs for the barely existent modern air-spheres, nor heavy studded boots for today’s shin-slicingly delicate ultra-fabrics.

There’s some improvements to be made. Players cannot demand a video replay, and swarming the ref in an attempt to get one should get short shrift and a flurry of yellow cards. Time off for video replays. It’s not like a substitution or the ball going out for a throw in. Get the replay on a screen the referee can see without having to hop off the pitch like they’ve been caught short – but don’t let someone else make the call. That’s still the job of the referee.

After all, I don’t think you can meet a supporter from a sports code with video replays who don’t complain one way or the other about the decisions being made using them. But they also accept that decisions do even out, eventually. They’ll also note that referees, while possibly being illegitimate, can’t always keep up with the modern game.

So let’s give them a chance to get with the times. Video replays, reverse angles, slooooooow motion. It’s not going to affect the majority of the game, the blood and thunder on the parks of Auckland or Hackney Marshes. We accepted goal-line technology, albeit after a long struggle. The game will remain ninety minutes plus stoppages, eleven a side, most goals win.

At the heart of the argument, really, lies the referee. As long as the decision to call for and decide upon a video replay remains theirs, they and the game they officiate retains its integrity. Well, as much integrity as supporters, players and managers have ever been willing to give referees. Oh.

It might be apt to finish where we started. The game in which a video replay was first used, saw it used a second time. In the 79th minute of the game between New York Red Bulls II and Orlando B, the referee didn’t see a late challenge on a NYRB player who lay prone. He instantly referred it to the replay (but the officials didn’t get it done very quickly, again) took a look and issued a yellow card to an Orlando B player for the challenge (initially I had this as a red card, the same player picked up his second yellow two minutes later – JP). Neat and fair. Like it should be.

Author’s Note: I have previously argued against video replays, here

* Referee, two touch officials, fourth official, two goal line gonks.



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John Palethorpe

2 replies

  1. Good post John and you have triggered one of my pet hates. I agree with your overall analysis of the pros and cons of VAR. I do disagree with your assumption that the players behaviours won’t change. [a] The game at the top is fast and experienced club or international players are skilled at disguising fouls and influencing decisions. These games are normally videoed or televised and evidence is possible. Examples: Italian Serie A officials reviewed a game and proactively red carded and suspended a player. Rio Olympics officials reviewed a red card decision and reversed an incorrect decision. That signals to players and managers that players actions are recorded and bad illegal behaviour will be acted on. [b] Lower level games are sometimes videoed by teams or officials. Therefore games like that rely on good video if any or the referee. Example: Managers of both teams in a game agreed the wrong player was sent off and appealed to the AFF. The red card was cancelled or reapplied. [c] Clubs could also bill suspension costs to serial offenders, to hit them in the pocket and block transfers until the player pays or the new club pays costs. That said, some players may not change but pressure from clubs suffering suspensions and team managers going down a player or players does change behaviours of committed players, not wanting to let their team and club down. Serial offenders get culled in the end. I know of several players who have been dropped for poor decisions and they gain a reputation, which follows them when they move on. Smart committed players change because they have to, to succeed at a higher level. The VAR process will improve and football has far less rules than most other sports. FIFA could easily fix referee abuse and bad fouls by enforcing more strictly the existing rules, allowing only captains to challenge decisions, sending abusers off and marching teams back 10 metres each time, like other codes. Players will soon get the message to zip it and behave. I believe players will change and the game will ultimately change in the end too, with better fairer decisions in the top televised games. The power to change illegal play lies ultimately with FIFA, national bodies and team managers. The beautiful game can be just that, with a combination of technology, a more decisive FIFA and vigilant officials.

  2. As a referee, here are my opinions:

    Firstly, I just want to point out that incident in the video should be red card, regardless of whether it happened in the box or outside (holding an opponent is still a red in the box under new laws). The only reason he watch the replay should be deciding whether it is a penalty or freekick. Another possible theory is that he watched the video to see if it was an actual foul or a dive, but in that case he shouldn’t have given the foul if he isn’t sure there is a foul. Unless he just gave it because he knew he could watch the replay and change his decision if he’s wrong. If that is the case, then there is a possibility of VAR can be misused by the referee.

    Secondly, a lot of the offences under the LOTG are subject to referee’s interpretation. Some challenges can be borderline no card/yellow or yellow/red. So that may lead to ‘controversial’ decisions even with the help of VAR.

    Thirdly, what would happen if the referee play on from a foul he’s missed, and a couple minutes later the opposition scored? Do we disallow the goal for a foul that happened 2 mins ago? Or what if it was a retaliation instead of a goal scored? Do you still caution or send off the player for that second foul if we have to go back to the earlier foul?

    Lastly, what about offsides? A lot of controversial decisions are to do with offside. What should the referee do if the VAR shows an offside was incorrectly given by the AR and the attacking team could have had a promising attacking opportunity (or even an obvious scoring opportunity)?

    I think the VAR will definitely help with off-the-ball incidents, simulation or incidents that the officials have missed. However, the million-dollar question is: how can FIFA implement it in a consistent way that would not cause further controversies or impact on the game in a negative way?

    In regards to player behaviour brought up by Thomas. Stricter rules would definitely help, although it might not work for every country, e.g. Portugal and South American countries. In parts of Australia they have a zero tolerance for abuses especially youth games. So any arguments or use of curse words is a straight yellow. However, I have seen this rule being misused by referees and killed the game with unnecessary cards.

    On a local level in Auckland, I think what clubs and federation should focus on is the integration between clubs, federation and referee association. I recently visited one of the referee association in England and I was impressed by how well the clubs work with the referees and the county FA to improve the overall referee quality. Clubs were happy to share facilities for referees training and seminars, and encourage its players (especially the ones who might not go far as a footballer) to sign up refereeing. More referees = more competition, and only the good referees get promoted over there. Whereas in Auckland there is a shortage of referees and Papakura is the only club happy to let the referee train on their field once a week (which only benefit the referees who live out south). Therefore, I really do think clubs and federation should really work together to improve the quantity and quality of referees. Or else we may not have enough (good) referees to cover games in the future.

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