The debate over the use of replays seems to have created more controversies in football than in other sports.
Just this weekend, there were two contested decisions in the match between Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers and another in the match between Manchester City and Newcastle United.
In the case of the second match, it was not that the losing team Newcastle and its supporters were the only ones questioning the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) decision.
Newcastle had begun the match strongly and looked to have grabbed the lead through Lys Mousett in the 28th minute but the goal was ruled out after a VAR review found the slimmest offside margin. Fans from both teams expressed their displeasure and opposition to the VAR decision in loud united chants.
Cricket, badminton, rugby and tennis are some of the other sports that have adopted the VAR system without much controversy. Table tennis is expected to follow through with their very own video refereeing system this year.
In cricket, especially, fans even look forward to the video referee’s decision and celebrate it with vigour. In fact the adoption of video refereeing has enhanced the value of the game for both the spectator and the players.
If cricket fans love the VAR, why is it attracting so much controversies in football?
One key problem with football’s adoption of the VAR system is putting the responsibility of the referral system back into the hands of the match official. This is in contrast with cricket or rugby where the task is handled by a video referee. And worse still is that football also allows off-field referees to determine which decisions of the on pitch referee should be reviewed.
In both situations, the referees, under added pressure to show their diligence often make controversial decisions for the slightest of reasons or the slimmest of margins.
Unlike other sports, football also does not seem to have any limitations on the number of reviews. This was amplified during the Womens’ World Cup earlier this year, where there was an average stoppage time of 7 minutes 27 second per match caused mainly by video reviews.
Using more replays in football, has not eliminated controversial decisions, rather has created newer one, where it did not exist.
Perfection in sports does not make it all the more entertaining. Diego Maradona’s Hand of God goal against England at the 1986 World Cup would have been overruled with the VAR system and we would have loss, perhaps, one of the most iconic moments in sporting history.
Imagine the VAR, if it was in operation, disallowing Geoff Hurst’s extra time for England goal against West Germany in the 1966 World Cup Final. His shot had hit the top cross bar, bounced down and presumably inside the goal and bounced back out of the goal again.
Even today the video footage cannot discern whether the ball crossed the line or not. However, a VAR decision would have probably gone against Hurst and England.
Mistakes and imperfections is what makes sports entertaining and even relatable to spectators. Cutting it down completely takes away the charm of sports as well as ruin classic and historical moments.
Still using the VAR is seen as a way forward to make sports fairer to all. It has its advantages and disadvantages, and finding the right balance on its use would be right thing to do.
Football’s use of the VAR to penalize fractional offside, accidental handballs and even the goalkeeper moving millimeters of the line during penalty kicks, is not endearing to fans.
Former Liverpool and Scotland captain Graeme Souness has called for the offside rules to be changed to stop more controversial VAR decisions from ruining the game.
More than 20 goals are said to have been ruled out controversially by the VAR system in the English League so far this season alone.
VAR has changed the way football is played all over the world. But its current legacy is the dread among player and officials on being denied a legitimate goal or an illegitimate goal being allowed.