How to fix VAR in two easy steps

Video Assistant Referee was tested at the Russia 2017 Confederations Cup and it was a huge mess. First, it was a bummer. Whenever a goal was scored the players and fans would start to celebrate, and then have to stop and wait for a minute while the VAR took a look and made sure the goal was legit. Then, after review, the official would signal and everyone could celebrate again. Second, VAR got crucial decisions wrong. What we want from VAR is corrective action for incidents that the referee missed. And so when we see a player elbow another player in the head, and then we see them reviewing the decision, we expect a red card. In the final of the Confederations Cup, Jara elbowed Timo Werner and the referee reviewed the incident but gave a yellow card.

  1. Institute a challenge system: eliminate the mandate to review every goal and instead managers get two challenges per match, 1 in each half. Not only will this allow players and fans to celebrate but could also add drama to the match: imagine Arsene Wenger fishing his challenge flag out of his big puffy jacket.
  2. Institute a “know the laws of the game” system: the one thing that VAR proved to me is that referees either don’t know the laws of the game, don’t enforce the laws, or there is some secret set of interpretations of the laws that referees are handed that the rest of us don’t get. The laws of the game are clear but for some reason time and again we fans see a referee look at an incident, like Jara’s elbow to the head, and issue what we all think is a weird decision, like a yellow card when it should be red. We actually know what the problem is: it’s that the referees are given a secret set of interpretations that they are supposed to use. For example, handball. Handball, according to the Laws, must be intentional. It’s a perfectly clear law. However, there was a Champions League match last season after a clearly unintentional handball went unpunished in which the television presenter brought on a UEFA official to explain how at certain times, like when the ball is accidentally handled in the box, UEFA wants the officials to call it, because “it looks wrong.” If that’s the law of the game, it needs to be published somewhere. We can’t have secret laws and interpretations that only a select few people know.

Ultimately, I think VAR is a great step forward. For years now supporters have been able to review decisions on television with multiple camera angles while referees have only been allowed to see a call once and from their one, sometimes obstructed view. VAR potentially corrects this problem, allowing the official to see the action from multiple angles. Moreover, what VAR exposes is the fact that referees are given far too much latitude interpreting the laws and as UEFA proved last season with their handball interpretation, the officials are even given directives that run counter to the laws of the game. This is highly problematic. Officials need to be applying the laws of the game consistently and fairly. Anything less than that is ripe for corruption.


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