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How VAR is Ruining the Premier League

Alex Lee

Referee Anthony Taylor goes to the pitchside monitor to review a decision.

The Premier League implemented the video assistant referee (VAR) at the beginning of the 2019-2020 season in hopes that it would eliminate the potential for human error from the referees. It was meant only to be utilized when one of the referees makes a glaring mistake, such as missing a clear handball or offside call. Yet, what we see today is quite the opposite. 

More than ever, VAR is being used to review calls that stray far from the system’s original purpose. VAR was never intended to determine offside decisions where one player’s foot is just centimeters ahead of the other or review a seemingly harmless tackle in the middle of the pitch. It was brought into the game to rule out “clear and obvious” errors; however, stopping the game for minutes to review several camera angles of an offside call does not meet this criteria. Former England striker and Ballon d’Or winner Gary Lineker shared his frustration with the tight offside calls that are ever more common.

Once again, the technology can’t prove tight decisions. Two replays is the maximum you need to see if the referee’s assistants have badly erred. Get rid of the silly lines and dots. If it’s that tight go with on-field decision,” Lineker said following a weekend of questionable VAR decisions.

The question about what should be deemed clear and obvious also arises when considering tackles or potential fouls. A study showed that referees are much more likely to award a harsher penalty for tackles that are viewed in slow motion as opposed to real-time. A tackle that might normally be a yellow card is more likely to become red when VAR slows the video down and analyzes  This means that VAR is not actually providing objectivity (its intended goal) in these scenarios, as it is changing the referee’s initial opinion on a contested decision. Slowing it down and rewatching cannot guarantee that a correct decision is made, as a lot is meant to be left up to the referee’s discretion. VAR and its tendency to award harsher punishments also encourage players to go down or exaggerate their reactions when fouled, as they know if VAR checks it, it is more likely that the other team or player will be penalized.

Another issue I find with the current VAR system is the way it interrupts the flow of the game. Too often is there a five-minute pause in play as officials deliberate over a decision, which can deflate the atmosphere of an energetic match. The game is meant to be fast-paced, but long pauses, as a result of VAR, force the game to take on a considerably slower speed.

The tight offside calls, harsher decisions, and excessively long stoppages in play are not what VAR was implemented to achieve. These outcomes not only misrepresent VAR’s original goals but also affect the game in other ways that need no change. It is time to see a thorough rework of the way VAR is used in the Premier League, addressing how to stay true to the game and its energy and uncertainty while at the same time assisting referees in their decision-making instead of taking over the entire process.


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