Why is VAR being used in the Premier League?

This is probably two questions depending on your tone and views on VAR. So let’s break them down.

Why is VAR being used in the Premier League?

Why is VAR being used in the Premier League?

The cold answer to the straight question is that the Premier League is keen to stamp out as much controversy surrounding decisions at all.

This is essentially due to the stakes being so high in terms of protected revenue (for those at the bottom), prize money (for those in the middle), and prestige (for those at the top).

The second, more exasperated version of this question of “Seriously, why the f*** is VAR going to be used in the Premier League?!” is a little harder to answer as it’s obviously an introduction into the game that has seriously divided opinion.

Some people love the added drama, some people don’t. Some people love the exact kind of controversy and injustice the Premier League want to eradicate, some people hate it. Some people believe VAR solves problems, others believe it causes them.

So VAR will make everything fairer and everyone happier? No. It absolutely will not do that, and, no matter what side of the fence you sit on, you shouldn’t allow yourself any illusions that it will.

VAR is a well-tested system now after being used in two World Cups among other competitions, and if we have learned anything it’s that it probably causes more arguments than it settles.

Football is brilliantly subjective and it always will be. All VAR does is invites the referee to reconsider a decision from a position of greater knowledge. It offers absolutely no guarantees that anyone will necessarily agree with the decision. It’s generally tough enough to get two TV pundits to agree with a decision from about a zillion camera angles, never mind an entire viewership.

A more cynical glance suggests that introducing VAR is more about the Premier League protecting itself politically by being seen to be doing all it possibly can to protect the integrity and fairness of the competition. It’s plausible deniability framed as utopian endorsement of inarguable truth, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come without its up-sides.

Where will VAR be used? It has already been confirmed that all 20 Premier League grounds for the 2019/20 season will be fully kitted out to be able make full use of VAR.

From there, it will all be controlled by officials at a VAR hub in Stockley Park, west London.

When will VAR be used?

VAR in the Premier League will focus on four main areas: goals, penalties, red cards, and mistaken identities – and officials pledge to only allow it to come into play on ‘matters of clear and obvious errors.’

“It will take us two or three years to get this right,” referees chief Mike Riley admitted.

“We don’t want VAR to come in and try to re-referee the game. We actually want it to protect the referees from making serious errors, the ones everybody’s goes: ‘Well, actually, that’s wrong.’

“If we keep to that really high bar there is more chance of keeping the flow of the game, the intensity of the game and people enjoying the spectacle of it rather than constantly referring to the video screen for changing decisions.”

How often will VAR be used in the Premier League? It’s probably not quite as well-known as it should be, but VAR has already been extensively trialled in the Premier League. There have been two seasons on trials to get us to this point.

Last season, up until week 33, there were eight checks per match on average according to the BBC, with the average check lasting 29 seconds.

The people getting most nervous about that may well be Sky TV, who routinely schedule back-to-back matches on Sundays with very little time between them.

But going off the results of the trials, VAR will add, on average, four minutes into every Premier League match, which shouldn’t worry too many people.

Of course, those trials didn’t also take into account the time it takes to communicate with the referee pitch-side and practically implement any overturned decisions, so the trial results probably only tell half the story.

“At the forefront of our minds all the time are two things: minimum interference for maximum benefit, and to maintain where possible the flow, intensity and speed of the game, because that’s what people want to watch in Premier League football,” Riley added.

So VAR in the Premier League be different to VAR elsewhere? For all Riley’s understandably positive spin, the realities are that the Premier League will face the exact same issues with VAR that other competitions have.

For example, the handball controversies with VAR in the Champions League next season should, in theory, be less of an issue for the Premier League, who want to take a much more lenient stance on the law.

Similarly, the spate of penalties retaken at the women’s World Cup due to goalkeepers leaving their line too early should also not be replicated by a VAR-using Premier League.

FIFA, though, are likely to, at best, but severe pressure on officials in the Premier League to implement VAR much more consistently with the rest of the world than they are apparently planning for.

“What is written in the laws of the game has to be enforced in every one of the countries that belong to FIFA, and in every one of the competitions arranged by the member associations of FIFA,” Pierre-Luigi Collina, who is the head of FIFA’s referees, has stated. “The laws of the game are for everybody.”

So, even with all the best intentions in the world to create a Premier League-specific version of VAR, whether they will actually be able to in reality is one great unanswered questions for now.

Will fans be told when a decision is being reviewed?

In short, yes. As per the official Premier League statement on VAR for the 2019/20 season:

“The Premier League has created graphics which will be displayed on giant screens to explain any VAR-related delay to a match, and any overturned decision.

“Additionally, if the VAR believes there is a definitive video clip which helps explain an overturned decision, it will be broadcast on giant screens.

“Also, the Premier League is investigating the possibility of messages and video clips being viewed on handheld devices via an app.

“For clubs who do not have giant screens in their stadium, VAR communications will be made via a combination of PA announcements and messages on scoreboards.”

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