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.



  1. I like the idea of this 2 challenges per game its similar to DRS in cricket and its very effectively used there…

  2. I could fix VAR in one easy step – chuck it in the bin as an utterly wank idea that will further add to the increasingly insipid atmosphere around the English grounds.

    Football’s one of the most popular spectator sports on the planet for a reason, why fuck with it?

  3. I’m just looking forward to seeing players add a new gesture into their repertoirs: outlining the shape of a tv box. Now, instead of the tired old waving the yellow card gesture, we can also have them drawing boxes for referees. Should be fun.

  4. Here here, Tim. Completely agree with this. The “secret directives for refs” thing is an absolute outrage. Limiting VAR to a challenge system is just common sense (I’d like to see 2 a game, one in each half, but the first one carrying over to the second half if you don’t use it in the first).

  5. Cheers Tim.

    I agree that VARs is the way forward even if there’s certainly room for discussion on how exactly it’s implemented. During the tournament there was sometimes confusion over what was being reviewed and even sometimes over who was making the calls. Sometimes it was the ref, sometimes it seemed like it was whoever was in charge of the system, and worryingly, sometimes it seemed to depend on how much players complained. There needs to be clarity regarding who is deciding when VARs is used.

    While I’m not sure if I think limiting challenges to just one per half is totally satisfactory it would certainly be a good place to start and would get people used to the idea with minimal disruption to how we’re all used to watching the games.

    Regarding the elbow in the final I agree that it was a crazy decision not to give Jara a red card and it’s probably ‘mistakes’ like that that will make some think it’s all pointless but at least in that instance there’s no ambiguity. We know that the ref saw the incident and we know that he bottled it (probably because it was the final). If referees were to make similar calls in the future at least we don’t have to wonder whether they saw it or not or whether they saw it from a bad angle or whatever.

    I think despite the criticism of the system, and all the controversy, I can only think of maybe two incidents they got wrong, the elbow in the final and a handball deflection in a Germany game (I think). There were far more incidents of goals that may have been allowed (and looked like they should have been allowed) that we’re correctly ruled out, usually because of offsides. In that sense I think the system was a success.

    Lastly, in my opinion, I think it’s important that something like VARs isn’t expected to be 100% foolproof in order to be worth persisting with. No system like this is going to be perfect and I think it’s more important to focus on all of the correct decisions the system leads to than the few mistakes/errors/dodgy decisions that slip through the cracks.

  6. Agree with Jeremy. Football needed video technology 10 years ago. Keep at it and even FIFA and the Premier League should be able to figure it out eventually.

    Unless for some nefarious reasons they want to intentionally screw the pooch and although I love me a good conspiracy now and again, I’m not buying into that stuff just yet.

  7. I suggest that the VAR is played on the big screen in the stadium whenever the ref consults it.

    Since I am sure that the audience understands the “laws” better than the ref as most of it is 90% common sense.

  8. Really what we need is the VAR to be running a few seconds AHEAD of play, so when an incident occurs they can already be in the refs ear ‘play the advantave, keep it moving’ etc. Super fluid football. Referereed in the future for realtime accurate results. ‘In 7 seconds they’ll score, but watch the winger who sneaks into an offside position in front of the keeper. No goal.’ We dont even have to wait for decisions. THE DECISIONS HAVE BEEN MADE BEFORE THE ACTUAL EVENTS. Sort of like how corrupt referees work currently.

  9. Here’s some other simple solutions to improve the game.

    1. Any fan who’s disappointed or distraught with the reversal of the goal, or the time it took to arrive at the right decision, will be afforded a free counseling session from the on hand, club employed psychologist.

    2. A hand ball can only be awarded if a player actually catches the ball with his hands and holds on to it for more than five seconds. The accurate time of ” hand ball possession ” should be measured with the referee’s ” hand ball” watch , which should be worn on his left wrist, between the “goal line technology” watch and the “full time “match watch.

    Any fan disappointed with the rule no2, see rule no1.

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