Fans and pundits have long debated the adoption of Video-Assistant Refereeing (VAR) in football.
To this day, fans are divided on its usefulness, as one side claims that it interrupts the natural flow of a match, whereas the other camp argues the benefit of increasing fairness in decisions outweighs any drawbacks.
Regardless of your viewpoint, there is no denying that VAR is here to stay in football until the conception of a more advanced technology.
Before that time comes, improvements are necessary to the existing system to enhance the viewing pleasure for the fans.
(VAR is influential in the outcome of Premier League matches.)
The Problem: Communication
One of the upsetting aspects of VAR is the lack of communication between the referees and the fans during the decision-making processes in a match.
Viewers inside and outside the stadium are left pondering the justifications of the referee’s verdict, for which they have to make assumptions based on the replays shown on the screens – creating a disconnect between the two parties in the meantime.
In the Premier League, the PGMOL (Professional Games Match Officials Limited) has taken steps to bridge that gap by having a representative appear after the match broadcast to explain the decisions, and the newly introduced ‘Match Officials Mic’d Up’ provides some insight after the game, but still leaves fans in the dark during the match.
Match Officials Mic’d Up: what the new TV show tells us about referees https://t.co/drONQKahoD
— Guardian sport (@guardian_sport) September 6, 2023
The Solution: Mics
The one addition that can solve all these problems is an insight into the conversation between the on-field referee and VAR team in real-time by relaying their conversation to the fans.
This recommendation does not intend to improve the quality of the decisions made but rather improve the fan engagement in their match experience as it would allow them to understand the referee’s judgment live, bringing clarity and transparency.
Although they may disagree, at least fans will understand the basis of the referees’ judgments.
Moreover, others in the sports industry have already tested the system and successfully integrated it into their game, which should remove any fears the refereeing bodies might have.
Here are a few examples.
They describe the benefits of it on their website, which reads the following; “The microphones allowed officials to explain on-field rulings to a much wider audience, and fans watching on television — along with those in the stands.”
In Superbowl LVII, the head referee, Carl Cheffers, communicated the grounds for the penalty against the Philadelphia Eagles to the fans through the wireless microphone system.
Although the call was controversial, viewers had access to the referee’s justification for the penalty instantly, which is better than being left bemused like the unusual incident in a Premier Leauge tie between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea last season when Hakim Ziyech had a red card bizarrely overturned to a yellow.
Hakim Ziyech gets shown a red card.
— The Athletic | Football (@TheAthleticFC) February 26, 2023
World Rugby, the governing body of rugby, has adopted the same lately and has continued its application for the ongoing World Cup.
During a Group Stage match between England and Argentina earlier in the tournament, the referee explained to the captains of both teams the reason why England’s No.7 had a yellow card upgraded to a red following a review by the bunker review system – a conversation which all the viewers had access to during the match.
The Barrier: FIFA
In an interview on Sky Sports, Howard Webb, Chief Refereeing Officer of the PGMOL, explained the recent introduction of releasing audio clips of the conversations between referees after the match to show the audience the thinking behind certain controversial decisions.
Webb also talks about why it is currently unattainable to broadcast live coverage of the referees’ conversation: “We can’t play it live in game. It is not allowed within the laws of the game. FIFA don’t allow us to play this out during the game. Who knows where that might go in the future?”.
Webb implied that the PGMOL and all international refereeing bodies have their hands tied for providing the ideal solution, even if they wanted to, as it depends on FIFA’s willingness to change the rule.
Although there should be reasons for FIFA’s stance on the matter, there is strangely no explanation.
This change is needed in football when considering that VAR can crucially influence the outcome of games, and it is already lagging behind other sports that have successfully administered this system.
This suggestion represents a step to improve the sport, and though it might just be the beginning of a long journey, it will be progress nonetheless.