• Alastair Blair

VAR needs to learn from rugby (before it's too late)


Today, it's reported that Eddie Jones, the English rugby union team head coach, believes that his sport's version of VAR, that is the TMO (Television Match Official), needs reform. More specifically, he says he's "had enough" of the delays caused by the TMO and wants to remove the repeated pauses in play caused by overuse of the TMO, draconian policing of high tackles, pedantic officiating of the set-piece and drinks breaks. We need to do the same in football before it's too late...


In my new book on Scottish Referees and the impact of Scotland on the development of the Laws of the game, the third section is largely devoted to my views on the continual changes being made to football's rules and the use of technology to, in theory, improve' the game. I have a lot to say about VAR and how it kills the enjoyment of a goal for football fans. It is going to be implemented in Scotland later this year but, in my view, we need to have an urgent debate about how to improve it before it starts - and stop it from encroaching even further on our (that is the fans') game.


I interviewed a number of rugby referees, including one of the most senior and most respected in rugby and his view was that his sport is now less attractive to watch. Moreover, it's clear that in rugby the initial soft sell for the TMO (that it would improve accuracy and wouldn't extend its reach beyond its original parameters) has now long since been bypassed by increasing interference from the off-the-field officials sitting in front of banks of television screens.


The media, of course, are all for VAR. It will enable them to create and sustain stories for days after a match, especially if it's an Old Firm one where VAR has had a major impact on the result. The referees are, apparently, for it and claim, without actually providing the source for their statistics, that it will improve accuracy. Given that we haven't had VAR in Scotland and therefore any analysis of the accuracy or otherwise of previous decisions is purely subjective (as are many VAR decisions), it's worth arguing over whether a tiny increase in 'accuracy' is worth it or whether, as it's been since the game began, a referee's decision, made with all the potential for human error that implies, actually is final.


I argue in the book that the single biggest problem with VAR is its lack of immediacy. I don't want to pay to go to a match only to watch re-runs, rock'n'rolled backwards and forwards in slow-motion, of a goal that I celebrated five minutes earlier and which is then disallowed on a technicality that no-one could possibly have seen in real-time. Moreover, my other argument against VAR is that no-one should think it will stop where it is just now (when you examine the actual law around VAR, it's clear it can - and does - allow for some ridiculous situations that are as unfair as any previous, honest human mistake from a referee). Who doesn't believe that a European Super League or similar will not happen in the future (the ban on it has been challenged in court in the past few days). And when it does, the money men will insist that every 'wrong' decision must be righted - and football will become a computer game and not a sport...


P.S. one thing I did learn from my chats with rugby referees is that there are some things football can learn from the oval ball game. In particular, the moratorium on any club official or player approaching any match official for 15 minutes after the end of a game would make a huge and beneficial difference to football.

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