…or they will just stay at home
Football’s lawmakers are under increasing pressure to allow Video Assistant Referee (VAR) communications to be broadcast in stadiums, to save the controversial technology from ruining the sport. Federations from around the world are pushing the International Football Association Board to change their laws which forbid discussions between officials being heard by spectators at home or in the ground.
The Australian FA (FFA), whose A-League were the first to adopt the technology in 2017, have even submitted a three-stage plan to help the reluctant IFAB ease in the change “with the man at the forefront of the proposal adamant it will become the future of VAR”.
MLS in the United States, which was one of the first leagues to use VAR led by former Premier League official Howard Webb, are also understood to be pushing for the change – not only the broadcasting of discussions, but also the possibility of the referee announcing the outcome of a review over the stadium PA system.
The Dutch and German FAs are also understood to be keen for change as VAR problems continue to plague leagues across Europe, even in competitions that have had the technology for some time.
Broadcasting reviews also formed a key part of a four-point plan to save VAR, with supporters in Premier League stadiums left in the dark as referees spend up to four minutes deliberating reviews.
Premier League chairmen met referees chief Mike Riley last week in a fractious four-and-a-half hour discussion over VAR’s tempestuous introduction, with the measly result of a promise to add information to the captions shown on the big screen to explain what the review is looking for, starting next month. The Premier League are keen to stress, however, their hands are tied due to IFAB’s protocols.
IFAB had been reluctant to change their belief that broadcasting communications would place officials under increased pressure. But they have softened to the idea as it becomes clear that something needs to give.
“I have no doubt eventually VAR discussions will be broadcast,” said Ben Wilson, the former FFA head of referees who originally proposed the idea to IFAB. “That is the biggest thing that can revolutionise the technology. It will change everything. It will give spectators an understanding of why they have come to that decision. That will be the future of the VAR.”
Wilson, who resigned from his position with the FFA in August after seven years in charge of their referees, proposed his three-stage plan to IFAB in the summer.
Initially, broadcasters would be able to tune into the VAR communications and relay that information to their viewers. The second phase would be for the discussions during a review to be heard on TV. The final stage would be to broadcast that discussion in the stadium.
Wilson had FFA referee Jarred Gillett, now a Premier League VAR, linked up to a microphone throughout his final game, to show IFAB how it could work.
IFAB’s advisory panels discussed whether to make a change at a meeting in Zurich last month. They are due to decide on any further steps at their annual business meeting on December 3, with Arsene Wenger, FIFA’s new chief of global football development, set to be a part of it.
The Premier League show replays of key incidents on the big screens after reviews have been concluded, such as Ryan Bertrand’s red card against Leicester, yet the A-League have shown them during reviews.
For Wilson, it was vital to improve the fan experience, another key part of The Mail on Sunday’s manifesto to improve VAR.
“If you get a better experience watching the game at home why would you watch it in the ground,” asked Wilson.
MLS, meanwhile, have tried sharing footage and providing VAR commentary online after each round of matches.
Following the meeting between Riley and club chairmen, the Premier League announced referees would still be encouraged to use the pitch-side monitors as “sparingly” as possible in a bid to protect the pace and intensity of the games, despite increasing frustration among supporters. But referees took him at his word and so far not one of them has consulted the screens in any of the 120 matches.
At some point that must change, too. In the Bundesliga, players and supporters began to accept decisions more willingly when the league allowed referees to use the monitors more frequently.
Uefa referees chief Roberto Rosetti told The Mail on Sunday earlier this season that he wants his officials in Europe to use the monitors as he wants his referees “at the centre of the decision-making process – not the VAR”.
MLS bosses also realised that fans prefer to see referees viewing the images to make the final decision as it helps them to follow the process. They also use them for offside calls.
That is another area that needs to change but will not do so until at least next season as chairmen voted to avoid making any drastic changes for fear of it affecting the integrity of the competition – as if continued controversy over VAR would not do the same.
The Mail on Sunday manifesto backs the introduction of a “linesman’s call” – endorsed by Wilson and utilised to some degree in the MLS.
The assistant referee’s decision is considered to be correct unless shown to be clearly wrong to the naked eye.
“I think the answer will be a degree of linesman call,” said Wilson.
“Either make the lines thicker and say if they are touching, the on-field decision stays. I know Ifab think that offside is black and white but for a whole range of reasons it is not.”
The Mail on Sunday revealed that the frame rates of broadcast cameras used by VAR are not high enough to show for certain whether a player is offside by centimetres when attackers can move around 15cm between frames.
“With exception of goal-line tech, everything else needs to stay at least a little on-field,” said Wilson. “Maybe football needs to realise it can’t be perfect.”