Thursday 22 August 2019

World Cup figures confirm that VAR can't come soon enough

Referee Nestor Pitana checks the VAR system during the World Cup final at the Luzhniki Stadium (Aaron Chown/PA)
Referee Nestor Pitana checks the VAR system during the World Cup final at the Luzhniki Stadium (Aaron Chown/PA)

Keith Hackett

The World Cup was often mired in the debate over the rights and wrongs of the video assistant referee (VAR), and it features again at today's Community Shield at Wembley. But when the Premier League kicks off next week it will do so without access to VAR - and I believe that is a very unfortunate mistake.

That doesn't mean I think VAR is perfect, but when used correctly it can be a huge help to officials, and I wonder if the Premier League is already regretting its decision not to use VAR this season. The clubs voted on the issue in April, when numerous FA Cup matches had been blighted - rather than improved - by the technology, and at the time there was little dissent when they opted to continue live trials for another season.

If they were making the same decision today I think they would come to a different conclusion. The figures I have been shown by FIFA state that there were 455 incidents checked by the VAR during the World Cup, an average of 7.1 per game. Only 20 of those actually led to a review by the on-field official, with 17 decisions changed as a result.

What that means is that without VAR the on-field officials got 95.6 per cent of their decisions correct, but with VAR that went up to 99.35 per cent. That is a huge difference, and I can assure you that the referees cannot wait for VAR to be introduced, because without it they are being hung out to dry.

Mistakes are inevitable, but we have access to technology that can help them make the right call nearly every time, particularly on black-and-white issues such as offside. Not allowing them access to that technology is perverse.

Introducing VAR will help the game and officials because the consequences of a mistake are enormous. When I was head of Professional Game Match Officials Ltd our officials received so many death threats I had to help one referee move into a safe-house while another had to have a panic button installed at his place of work.

Howard Webb has talked in the past about how he received "thousands of death threats" after awarding Austria a penalty against Poland at Euro 2008.

With the advent of social media, the situation is far worse now. That alone is enough to understand why the referees I speak to are so keen for VAR to be introduced as soon as possible.

I have no doubt VAR will be in use in the Premier League at the start of next season. In fact, if there are a rash of mistakes in the early weeks of the coming campaign I would not be surprised if it was introduced in the Premier League by Christmas.

Until then we have the halfway house of further test games, which includes today's Community Shield between Chelsea and Manchester City.

Test events are a necessity but it is difficult for the referees and their assistants to switch between games where VAR is in place or not. The mindset is completely different because in many cases - particularly for potential offsides - you are told to wave play on if VAR is in place, allowing it to be checked later, rather than making a decision.

For that reason I hope Jon Moss and his team are given some leeway today, and I hope the same is afforded to VAR when it is finally brought in full-time.

There are still kinks in the system and it is not foolproof - the incorrect decision to award France a penalty for a handball by Croatia's Ivan Perisic in the World Cup final demonstrated that. But it is the best system we have, and it is coming whether the traditionalists like it or not. My only regret is that it isn't in place already.

I have long believed the standard of officiating in England is declining, but this season offers a perfect chance for the Select Group of Referees to prove me wrong.

It is a sad state of affairs that there was no British representation at the World Cup, although I know Mark Clattenburg would have gone if he had not moved to Saudi Arabia last season.

Unfortunately, I only see one official anywhere near his level, in Michael Oliver. He is superb, but beyond him we are relying on old stagers or men sadly not good enough any more. My biggest wish for the new season is for some fresh blood in the Premier League who show real promise. It has been far too long since that happened.


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