The debate over the introduction of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) technology rumbles on. In the meantime, incidents take place through poor refereeing, professional fouls, or match officials being unsighted, and these incidents can have devastating impacts not only on the outcome of football matches, but a team’s league or competition status.
The main argument we keep on hearing is that the use of VAR will disrupt the flow of the game. But is that really true? Let’s have a look at some statistics. These stats were gathered by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) across a study of almost 972 games that took place in 20 different national authorities worldwide.
Interestingly, across matches covered in the study, the system was only called into action in just third of the games. Approximately two-thirds of games did not revert to VAR at all, even though the facility was ready and waiting to be used. The breakdown is as follows:
It is worth taking into account the fact that most VAR checks take place while action on the pitch continues. In other words, it does not interrupt the game as much as many people fear.
Spectators can tell when a check is in process by keeping their eyes on the referee. If they see the ref pressing a finger to his or her ear, a check is going on. If a replay/review is called for, the referee will sketch out an air-TV.
The interruption factor still remains the biggest culprit when people voice their reluctance about VAR, but with only a third of the matches needing VAR in the study, the only other thing fans worry about is the length of the actual VAR process. They think it will be unduly long.
However, there is good news on that front too. In addition to most checks being carried out while play continues, the median duration of a check is actually only 20 seconds. VAR reviews, when they do occur, have a median duration of 35 seconds. This compares to an “on-field” incident review time of around 68 seconds. It nearly cuts the time in half.
In terms of the average VAR intervention time in a single match, it is approximately 55 seconds. This pales into insignificance with other match events such as:
Like anything new, once it becomes "the norm," it seems to take up less time. Not only will VAR help to quell the anger of fans who see their teams lose and get unfairly knocked out of competitions, but it will also help to prevent people losing their stake and/or prize money when having a bet on a match where the outcome is wrongly altered.
Prior to the limited introduction of VAR, average refereeing accuracy was around 93%. Since VAR has been partially deployed, correct decision making rises to 98.8%. It never will be 100%, but that is not necessarily the aim.
The real aim is to get rid of the clear and most obvious errors, and in that, it is successful. Surely it really is only is a matter of time before the FA follows the Italian Football Federation and concedes to the introduction of VAR.
As well as improving decision making, it will clean the game up too, as fouls – whether petty, professional, cynical or downright dangerous – will be there for all to see.