21:08 BST 28/03/17 – Antoine Griezmann sees his goal against Spain ruled out for offside by a video assistant referee, or VAR, after initially being awarded by the referee.
21:08:01 BST 28/03/17 – Twitter, radio airwaves and pubs across the country are full of absolute bores complaining that video technology is ruining football, has ruined football, will ruin football, and is probably why their wives left them for someone whose face couldn’t be mistaken for a particularly large, lumpy tomato.
08:45 BST 29/03/17 – As above, but on Facebook, finally.
Technology being introduced to football has been a thorny subject for about as long as technology has… well, existed, really. Goalline technology caused the most recent fan kerfuffle when it was slowly introduced at the start of the decade, with (it turned out) unfounded fears that the system would hinder the ‘flow’ of the game.
Less than four seasons on, it’s hard to imagine the Premier League without it. Games have swung – unlike in the past, looking hard at Pedro Mendes here – based on correct decisions rather than guesswork and mistakes. Technology, once again, has succeeded.
The arguments against the VAR have been more or less identical. ‘It’s a danger to the flow of the game’. ‘Bad decisions are just a part of the sport’. ‘I live in Sunderland and have never seen anything that isn’t steam-powered in my life’.
The arguments are different to the real reasons though – those are trickier to get into. The two overriding reasons people seem averse to video technology in football are the sense of tradition and the distrust of the unknown. Those are hard to form logical arguments around though, so we get ‘flow of the game’ and ‘part of the sport’ bollocks.
How much do football games actually flow? It is – unsurprisingly, perhaps – less than you might guess. In the 2010 World Cup, the ball was in play for an average of 54 minutes per game. Even without allowing for injury time, that’s only 60% of the 90 minutes featuring ‘actual football’. What flow?
(For the record, the 2014 World Cup – the first with goal-line technology – saw that figure jump to 57.6 minutes, or 64% of the game.)
FIFA’s own guidelines on VAR usage make the point that, when reviewing goal decisions, the ball is already out of play. Watching Griezmann’s non-goal on Tuesday night, the French players were still celebrating and beginning to jog back to the halfway line when the decision was overturned. The technology couldn’t have worked more perfectly – the right decision was made and the game wasn’t obstructed in any way.
Equally – as with any offside call or non-call – the ball was dead and the game was stopped when Gerard Deulofeu’s goal later in the game was given by the VAR. That didn’t stop hordes of people online complaining about…what, exactly? A vague sense of ennui? Having nothing to complain about?
These are the same – the exact same, search their timelines – people who rant and rave at ‘disgraceful’ referees for getting marginal decisions wrong. They fume at a touch-tight judgement call going against their team. Now, when there’s a system to eradicate clear mistakes, it’s the end of football as we know it?
The guidelines for VAR usage are simple and clear. There are four situations where the assistant can make a decision.
To check, after a goal, that there is no clear reason for it to be disallowed. To make sure there are no clear mistakes made in the award – or non-award – of a penalty. To ensure there are no clearly wrong decisions made in the decision to send off – or not send off – a player. To avoid a scenario where a referee disciplines the wrong player for an offence.
That’s it. That’s all. It’s not hard. These are all decisions which take time out of the game for a break in play in any case. They can’t break a flow that literally doesn’t already exist.
If you need a kicker, just look at the commercial side of things. Football is a multi-billion business now, and the money men just can’t justify their investments being dashed to pieces on the basis of one simple human error. It works for fans. It works for businesses. It has to happen.
Stop being a pr*ck. Accept video assistant referees. Let football get a little bit better.
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