Monday 19 August 2019

David Kelly: 'VAR rips the heart out of joy of spontaneity but it's still a price worth paying'


VAR (Video Assistant Referee) displays a decision of a penalty on a scoreboard. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
VAR (Video Assistant Referee) displays a decision of a penalty on a scoreboard. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
David Kelly

David Kelly

Sport, for so many of us, is about great moments of spectacular spontaneity and that fleeting sense of euphoric communion they can arouse in even the hardest of hearts.

None, it might be argued, is as electrifying as that moment when your team scores a goal; in stark contrast, the briefest pall of depression that attends one from the opposition can be just as profound.

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For others, it may be a try or a goal in a GAA code; the crossing of the winning line by man or beast; the disappearance of a potted black or a putted white; a searing forehand winner, or a knockout blow delivered by a prize fighter.

Whatever the passion play, we live for that second of sublime release from the prevailing toil of existence.

It doesn't always arrive because in sport, as in life, there are many more who fail to achieve than there are those who do.

But when, and if, it does, the feeling is wondrous; and even if the endorphin rush passes in an instant, the glow can often remain for some time.

But what might happen if that instantaneous injection of delirium were withdrawn? If, instead of erupting in Vesuvian elation, emotions were temporarily repressed and replaced by a coldly logical assessment before one was allowed to betray any reaction?

Such are the consequences of the gradual growth of Video Assistant Refereeing; the repeatedly annoying interferences of invisible monitors who seek to question the validity of the magnificent moment we have just witnessed.

Or thought we just witnessed. For now we can never be so sure.

Especially when even the system deployed to adjudge this new world of uncertainty finds the task occasionally elusive.

And so, spontaneity is denied or, at best, delayed in sport's perennial struggle for sporting justice.

The essence of the moment thieved for all time merely to gauge whether an errant shoelace has wandered into an offside position.

The certainty of immediacy under constant threat of being over-ruled by what is, quite often, the utter uncertainty of incessant investigation.

A system based on the interpretation of evidence invites inevitable flaws; the elaborate committee system in rugby demonstrates as much, even if that sport has attempted to return some semblance of authority to the primary match official.

The weekend events at the London stadium between West Ham United and Manchester City were just indicative of the recurring difficulties that exist with VAR when used for anything other than binary applications like, say, goal-line technology.

The danger is that the ceaseless quest for certainty will hinder, rather than help, officials.

That has certainly proved to be the case in rugby union, while anyone who watched the Ashes' first Test had to balance their admiration for technological progress against the regression of human instinct.

For not only does the spectator now second-guess almost every major incident, but so too the officials; all so fearful of trusting their instinct, instead bowing to the swingeing verdict of Big Brother.

In mitigation, soccer in particular, and sport in general, required some semblance of intervention to eliminate the blatant injustices that have soured all codes for many years in sporting theatres, quite apart from the institutionalised cheating that takes place far away from them.

In soccer, from the Hand of God to the Hand of Frog, few would decry that a suite of measures was required to eradicate obvious mistakes.

One hopes the clear teething problems - chiefly the lengthy delays in reaching a decision - can be ironed out because VAR will not be abandoned, only amended.

Soccer is too fluid and interpretative a sport to achieve certainty in all matters; it is its very subjective nature that attracts so many.

A good start would be to ensure referees are allowed to re-assume the authority that was previously automatically vested in them; it is they who should choose to refer, rather than the other way around. If marginal offside laws are to remain a bug-bear, perhaps instead of challenging limitless transgressions, perhaps it is the case the laws themselves should be challenged.

A goal should be a cause for celebration, not a hair's breadth offside decision.

VAR will be here for a long time and be successful, but only if it stops taking a long time to make its decisions. Until then, a curious form of purgatory will prevail. No wonder the City fans, even as technology favoured them last Sunday, chanted their frustrations.

"We want our football back." VAR needs to review itself - and quickly, too.

Irish Independent

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