How can VAR be improved for next season?
Prior to the 2019/20 Premier League season, one of the biggest talking points was how the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) would impact the league. Many feared for the flow of the game and the efficiency of the system, based on what fans had seen in the UEFA Champions League and other leagues around the world. Fans were apprehensive and resistant to change, worried that VAR would simply question the integrity of the referees, and in turn cause further issues.
Well, now that we have witnessed a full season of the VAR in the Premier League, what can we expect the second time round and what changes do URef believe should be implemented in order to improve the system?
VAR was far from a perfect system this season. Many fans will agree that there were incorrect decisions made because referees were too trusted, and the VAR was reluctant to overturn decisions. Ideally this does make sense and minimal interference was something that fans were hoping for, but at the same time fans expect the correct decision to be made. When the VAR did interfere, it aligned with 80% of referee decisions, however URef users approved of just 67% of all decisions. A huge discrepancy considering there were over 300 decisions reviewed this season, and some of these calls were later deemed incorrect by the VAR correspondent Dermot Gallagher.
Something URef would like to see for the 2020/21 Premier League season would be the closing of the gap between the URef user’s approval rate and the VAR alignment rate. While referees are bound to make mistakes, fans agreeing with just two-thirds of all key decisions is too lacklustre to consider the first season with the VAR a success.
A huge frustration at URef (and for all fans) has been the lack of use of the pitch-side monitor in decision reviews for the referee. We have seen this be significantly useful in La Liga and the Champions League, among other leagues, however the Premier League has failed to bring this into effect, which has contributed to the inefficiency of the VAR system this season. Where players on the field are left in the dark about what the decision is, the referee is forced to trust their colleagues without a second look of the infringement, something very avoidable with a pitch side monitor system that will allow an open dialogue between the ref on the pitch and the refs behind the screen.
The players will understand that the referee is having a second look at a specific point of play and the pitch side monitor gives the referee greater support in making their own decisions as opposed to the VAR simply reviewing calls without sufficient correspondence.
There will be several rule changes for the upcoming season which will impact the efficiency of the VAR. The main rule change is for the handball rule, specifically when an attacking player accidentally touches the ball with the hand prior to a goal. If the handball occurs immediately before a goal is scored, then it is a handball offence. However, if the handball occurs in the build-up play, several passes before a goal is scored, then the goal should stand. While URef approve of the rule change, this rule has the potential to cause issues as it may be interpreted differently by refs where the point at which a handball would be called, and a goal will be disallowed.
URef believe there should be a clear distinction at what point on the arm does contact with the ball constitute as a handball. There were several controversial calls this season which saw goals disallowed and penalties given for shoulder contact and fans were left bewildered. URef believe clear communication with the spectator is also paramount, especially when making changes to the rulebook!
While URef have previously discussed the success of the VAR, URef believe the VAR system is raw and unfamiliar at this point in time, that it needs to be tinkered in these early stages to have any chance of fulfilling its purpose in the English game.
What do you think? Please leave a comment below on how you think the VAR fared this season and what changes you would like to see be made for the upcoming Premier League season!