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Opinion: VAR merely prolongs the injustice

Hallam Mark Kommentarbild App
Mark Hallam
October 14, 2017

Another Bundesliga weekend, another set of impossible refereeing decisions. For Mark Hallam, slowing down the process with costly video evidence will never make these borderline calls any more clear cut.

VfB Stuttgart - 1. FC Köln
Who's fouling who here? Even with video evidence, such questions don't always have answersImage: picture-alliance/R.Rudel

"Not in a month of Sundays was that a penalty, my friend. Let alone a red card."

"You're kidding, right? There was obviously contact from the defender. It wasn't much, granted, but that doesn't matter when you're running at full tilt."

"Sorry, I'm still not convinced…"

Conversations like these can keep us entertained (or even enraged) for hours in the pub or at the dinner table after a game. We football fans have had the benefit of slow-motion replays for years, yet the debates rage on.

It's absurd to expect video evidence to make this process any quicker, more efficient, or more definitively correct — even with professional referees operating the remote control and calling the shots.

Hallam Mark Kommentarbild App
Mark Hallam

Goal-line tech eliminates fallibility, VAR can't 

Sometimes I worry I'm just a dinosaur who needs to get with the times. I opposed goal-line technology, for instance, and must now admit that it's not as terrible as I feared.

But I believe that VAR is both different and worse. 

Goal-line technology uses a fully automated system to answer an unambiguous question: Did all the ball cross the goal line, or not? Using the tech, assuming it's correctly calibrated and doesn't break down, eliminates the possibility of error. 

That cannot be said for VAR as there is still a human element. The best it can deliver is a smaller chance of an error, plus a long and frustrating wait to learn the verdict. Even the "best case" VAR scenario, when a ref makes a glaring error and spots it on the video, is still scant consolation for the set of fans who thought they were getting a penalty. 

Grey areas are rarely obvious

With two games still to play in matchday 8, there have already been three contentious penalty decisions settled by VAR. 

One, for Leipzig, was given by the ref in real time, and then upheld. Another, for Dortmund, was given only after consulting the video reel. And the third, for Cologne against Stuttgart, was awarded in real time, then revoked after looking at the tape.

I would argue that all three incidents were fundamentally similar: either a very soft penalty for a ref to award, or a difficult appeal to ignore. 

And unlike the debate in the pub, a refereeing team has to try to discern these subtleties as tens of thousands jeer and boo. It creates a pressure cooker atmosphere in the stadium and on the pitch, and also undermines that golden rule of football.

The ref's decision is final. 

Several players made "box" hand signals this weekend, urging refs to check video evidence. This can hardly come as a surprise; be prepared for it to happen more and more. Then we can spend even longer watching referees watch TV. I'd prefer the hypothetical debate after the game instead.

And let's not forget that VAR, like so much in modern football, is only even an option for the rich.

Hallam Mark Kommentarbild App
Mark Hallam News and current affairs writer and editor with DW since 2006.@marks_hallam