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23rd Jun 2019

The problems created by VAR are worse than those it’s designed to solve

Wayne Farry


VAR threatens to overshadow every game that features it

Football is a game played by humans. Humans, by their very nature, make mistakes. It is probably what we’re best known for. Mistakes can be endearing, until they begin to pile up. When they pile up humans get pissed off – the thing we’re probably second best known for – and throw a fit.

Football has always been a game defined as much by human error than by human skill. For every galaxy brain pass and every awe-inspiring goal, there are about 20 mistakes. It’s what makes the game the way it is. At least it was.

When video assistant refereeing (VAR) was introduced to professional football in 2017 it was done so with the intention of cutting out mistakes. Mistakes had been acceptable in the past, but increasing levels of money in the game mean that errors by referees no longer just affect fans and players, but shareholders and venture capitalists thousands of miles away.

It’s fine for a mistake to occasionally decide a game, but not potentially affect a good investment.


Whatever cynicism people understandably hold towards FIFA, it’s not naive to believe that the intentions behind VAR’s implementation were pure.

Fewer mistakes. More correct decisions. Fewer unjustified defeats. Simple. Except it hasn’t been.

It was hoped that VAR would eliminate the costs of human error in the game, to do away with players and coaches furiously protesting poor decisions and fans swarming on social media to flood timelines with abuse. You can’t argue with science.

But when a system is created by, implemented by and overseen by humans, mistakes are never far away. Humans set the guidelines for VAR’s use and human officials dictate how and when it’s used during matches.


VAR doesn’t make all the decisions on a football pitch; officials – be they on the pitch or in an external location – purely refer to it, so we are left with a horrible combination of mistakes remaining in the game and a VAR system which will fix them, eventually, after an often excruciating amount of time.

This has led to a key complaint from many in the game is that VAR has killed the celebration. Scoring a goal is a beautiful feeling, one that makes the player, their teammates and their fans erupt with passion.

What VAR has done is paralyse that passion. So indoctrinated are we already by the idea that our celebration will be followed by an interruption to go the video ref that goals are increasingly being met with muted responses.


It is not a situation that is killing the sport, but it is one which is killing the fun, and it’s something that needs to be considered in future discussions by those in charge.

VAR operating by itself, in some sort of hypothetical world where artificial intelligence is devoid of bias, would be perfect.

VAR operating alongside humans, with flawed offside rules created by humans, is quite clearly a mess.

The controversy and exasperation surrounding VAR will not go away anytime soon, especially with its impending introduction to the Premier League.

If it continues in this direction we’ll reach a point where each of us – football fans, football players, coaches and administrators – will be faced with a sort of existential decision to make. What do we want from football? Correct decisions in every soulless, nervous and reluctant match or a game with passion, momentum and unadulterated heart?

Unfortunately, from the evidence that we’ve seen from VAR so far, the two cannot coexist.