Brainboxes behind football’s VAR admit they need more time to make system work
The people behind football’s Video Assistant Referee admit they need more time to make it pitch-perfect.
The system has been criticised as unpredictable and inconsistent since it arrived in the Premier League.
Bosses have promised it will get better by the match – but it could be years before every decision is spot on.
Former referee Neil Swarbrick, 53, is leading the technology revolution as VAR’s head of implementation.
He said: “We know from all the briefings we’ve done we’re not the finished article.
“This isn’t how it will be in three or four years’ time.
“It was the same people who were clambering for VAR to be used who are now to a certain extent saying VAR isn’t beneficial to the game.
“Well maybe they should have thought about that.”
I got a look behind the scenes at VAR headquarters in west London to see how it works.
The room may be nowhere near a Premier League stadium yet it is fundamental to what happens in all 20 of them.
Soundproofed walls block the hub off from the surrounding offices and the outside world.
Each Premier League match is watched by a panel of two assistant officials sitting next to an employee from technology firm Hawk-Eye and facing a wall of screens.
From their studio the VAR officials have a direct line to a referee who could be running a game 285 miles away in Newcastle.
The VAR team is on the lookout for five things – goals; clear and obvious errors; penalties; straight red cards; and mistaken identity.
If the team working at the Stockley Park hub believe the referee has made a mistake they can tell them, review the action and them offer their own verdict.
Goals can be ruled out if players are just a few millimetres offside.
Despite the extra scrutiny on the referees Swarbrick, inset, said he wishes he had the support of a VAR team on plenty of occasions.
He told us: “Going back to my refereeing days, do I wish we had VAR then? Yes I do.
“I think all referees would say that because we are human beings then mistakes do happen.
“The last thing you want as a referee is coming away from the ground knowing that you’ve made a mistake that has affected the result or outcome of a game.
“So the fact you have got VAR and a colleague looking at various angles of that incident and they can help you out it’s beneficial.”
The technology revolution has brought criticism from some fans.
Many have already started to delay their goal celebrations until they know whether it has survived a VAR review – leading to claims it kills the buzz at grounds.
So far this season VAR-reviewed decisions have taken an average of 77 seconds to make, slowing down the speed of the game the Premier League is famous for.
Swarbrick defended the new system, saying other sports have had years for fans to adapt to VAR.
He said: “In other sports like cricket and rugby union it’s taken them six, seven years to be in a comfortable position to utilise their technology.
“There will be situations that potentially we might have got wrong early season. But if we move forward, we’ll learn from that and start calling them right.”