Opinion: VAR isn′t to blame, the referees are | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 25.08.2018
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Opinion: VAR isn't to blame, the referees are

Controversy surrounding VAR has persisted into the new Bundesliga season. But DW's Davis VanOpdorp thinks the blame shouldn't be on the video assistants, but rather the referees who use them.

It only took one matchday for video assistant referees (VAR) to be a hot topic in the Bundesliga once again.

In Bayern Munich's 3-1 win over Hoffenheim, VAR interventions forced Robert Lewandowski to retake a penalty and disallowed a goal from Thomas Müller that hit his arm.

Matija Nastasic was also sent off with the help of VAR in Schalke's 2-1 loss to Wolfsburg, while Wout Weghorst was allowed to stay on after his red card was downgraded to a yellow in the same match.

Though the decisions may be up for debate, the controversy shouldn't be centered on the system itself, since video assistants are, by definition, assistants. The blame should lie with the referees on the pitch, the ones who are ultimately making the final decision.

It is them who need to make the right calls, regardless of how many times they see it.

The correct use

In several VAR cases, it's up for debate whether the referee made the right decision on the pitch. What isn't up for discussion, however, is that the situations reviewed deserve a second look.

For example, when Nastasic was sent off after the yellow card he received for fouling Weghorst was upgraded to a red, head referee Patrick Ittrich was well within his rights to ask for a second look before sending a player off. The same can be said when Ittrich downgraded Weghorst's red card to a yellow after the Dutch forward fouled Guido Burgstaller.

Patrick Ittrich showing red (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Steffen)

Patrick Ittrich (left) shows Wout Weghorst (right) a red card, which is later downgraded to yellow

You may not agree with the decisions that Ittrich made in each case, but you can be sure that the referee, who is a policeman by trade, was confident in handing out the justice he did.

The same can be said of Bastian Dankert, the referee who denied Müller a brace in Bayern's season opener because the shot from Leon Goretzka struck his arm before going in. Though some may argue that the incident was not a "clear and obvious error," the buzz-phrase associated with VAR.

But Dankert, whose day job is in sports science, was on the other side of the penalty area when Goretzka's shot ricocheted off of Müller and may have not had the best vantage point. Why shouldn't he gather all the evidence before drawing a conclusion?

We should want referees to look twice when they aren't sure they are making the right decision, which is what VAR is there for in the first place. Furthermore, if VAR was not in place, wouldn't the fact those decisions stood as they were still make headlines?

No use is still good use

Perhaps more frustrating for many Bundesliga fans was when VAR wasn't used rather than when it was.

The most prominent example was when Dankert did not go to his video assistant after calling a penalty on Hoffenheim defender Havard Nordtveit for fouling Franck Ribery.

Fußball Bundesliga FC Bayern München - TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (Reuters/M. Dalder)

Hoffenheim players plead their case after Bastian Dankert (far right) awards a penalty to Bayern Munich

But Dankert was positioned right at the top of the penalty area adjacent to the incident, so his perspective could not have been better. A video review may not have changed his mind.

Bayern coach Niko Kovac admitted afterward he wouldn't have given that penalty, one which Lewandowski scored after Arjen Robben negated his first attempt by running too early into the box.

Many may agree with Kovac, but their quarrel should not be VAR, but Dankert simply making the wrong decision.

For the record, that is what the German Football Association (DFB) and the German Football League (DFL) want from their referees. Earlier this month, the two bodies admitted that VAR intervened too frequently in the first half of last season — 50 times through the first 17 matchdays — and were much happier with its use by the end of the season — there were 38 VAR interventions in the second half.

If Dankert is in a position to make a confident decision with his own eyes, the DFB and DFL want him to make it. Some in those organizations may tell him he didn't make the right decision, but they will not question his ability to make it.

Bastian Dankert (picture-alliance/AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Bastian Dankert (right) reviews Thomas Müller's second goal before disallowing it

Human error

Until drones with artificial intelligence are the ones calling the shots, we are stuck with humans as referees. Of course there will be a measure of human error in VAR decisions.

But the Bundesliga didn't have the ability to take a second look before. What's not talked about is all the decisions VAR have helped make right by giving referees multiple looks.

Only in its second year, VAR will still have growing pains, the same one a young player has when he is in his second season. But if a decision is incorrect, the responsibility ultimately lies on the referee, not VAR.

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