VAR, or Video Assistant Referees, have been introduced to the Premier League this season—and the transition towards the new technology hasn’t exactly been seamless.
It got off to a rough start in the Premier League when it literally broke down in the first match of the season—and for many fans, the new technology hasn’t gotten a lot better since.
One of the latest incidents saw Manchester City denied a winning goal against Tottenham on Saturday when the ball brushed Aymeric Laporte’s arm before Gabriel Jesus converted. Just like VAR denied City in the dying moments of their Champions League clash with Spurs last season, they were denied here too.
With the delays and confusion it causes, many feel that VAR sacrifices emotion, joy, excitement and beauty in the name of accuracy.
But the real enemy here isn’t VAR—it’s the new handball rules that have been globally enforced by IFAB, the International Football Association Board.
This season, any goal that is scored with the use of the hand or arm will be disallowed, even if it is accidental. Previously, a referee would use their judgement to decide if a handball is accidental or deliberate, or if the arm is in an “unnatural position.” Now, VAR reviews every goal… and there’s no nuance at all.
Some have claimed the new rule is unfair because it punishes attacking players but not defenders: City would not have had a penalty if the ball had hit a Tottenham defender in a similar manner.
But, it also seems to work the other way: at the Women’s World Cup, where the new IFAB laws were in effect, we saw some pretty Draconian calls that lead to penalties given against defenders for handball.
Whether you like it or not, VAR is doing its job: it’s increasing accuracy. It is the application of the handball rule that is causing the stink.
These VAR calls are right to the letter of the law, but to most reasonable people, they just feel wrong.
In the past, the powers that be have scrapped rules and ideas that didn’t work—remember silver goal extra time, anyone?—so hopefully, these handball laws will be reviewed and changed and in due course.
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