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Objectivity in football: Why VAR would continue to frustrate and divide opinion

VAR makes things worse because players wait agonizingly for a decision where a harmless tackle increasingly looks like a malicious one and vice versa. The referee will now face more scrutiny since he or she now has the chance to have a second viewing of events.

The controversy surrounding VAR is an interesting one, but one that is sure to stay for a while. Say you were seen engaging in a punishable offense by one person, and going to jail would be based on that one individual’s judgment, would you ever accept the individual’s word as final? You would be hard-pressed to find someone with an affirmative answer to this.

And yet, this has been universally accepted in sports to be the case; football has a referee, cricket has an umpire and even professional wrestling creates the illusion of a one-man judge by involving a referee. The man or woman at the center of sporting decisions has become so vital to most sports. As enviable as this position of ultimate decision taker may seem, it is one that must be handled delicately. The introduction of VAR has made this position even more of a ticking bomb.

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In the past, refereeing decisions were always final, despite the unavoidable occurrences of disagreements with said decisions. VAR was then introduced to calm everyone down and has so far failed to do so. Some may say it has taken the opposite route.

The introduction and implementation of this so-called objectivity marker were always going to be contested since one man would ultimately have the burden of deciding how objectively correct he was in taking a decision. VAR makes things worse because players wait agonizingly for a decision where a harmless tackle increasingly looks like a malicious one and vice versa. The referee will now face more scrutiny since he or she now has the chance to have a second viewing of events.

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In the recently played Fulham- Liverpool match, Fabinho appeared (objectively at least) to have taken out the Fulham player causing the ball to go out. VAR intervened and asked the referee to take a look. Somehow the decision was taken that Fabinho had done no wrong. Objective? Clearly not, and it leaves people questioning the decision making of a man trained to be an expert in decision-making on the pitch. Everyone is left worse off.

VAR fails as Fabinho challenges Cavaleiro
Fabinho’s challenge on Ivan Cavaleiro was somehow deemed fair. Credit: The Sun

Objectivity with VAR would therefore be viewed to be playing second fiddle to ensuring better results for the bigger teams. Despite the fact that this may be far from the truth, VAR makes it easier to believe such claims.

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Another example of this false sense of objectivity is in the selectivity in VAR interventions. Free kicks and corners can just be as dangerous as penalty kicks but these seem to have been slotted into the “not so important” zone. The implementation of VAR in all aspects of the game will surely be tiresome and lead to games being more frustrating to watch. But the fact remains that any aspect designed to lead to a goal should at least be given a cursory look if objectivity is the aim. A James Ward-Prowse free-kick may cause as much damage as a Fulham penalty; it may or may or may not cause the net to bulge.

Take a recent example from the encounter between Wolves and Chelsea. The corner that led to Wolves’ first goal should have in fact been a goal kick. While a corner may not be as pivotal as a penalty, it is still a set piece, designed to help a team create a goal-scoring opportunity, as we saw in the earlier referenced game. If objectivity is really the end game, the human element in decision making slowly has to be phased out. However, nobody wants a robot run football match, as intriguing as the concept may be.

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Till we find a way to walk this tight rope between objectivity and subjectivity, VAR and refereeing decisions will always come under fire. Right now, we are on the verge of a slip.

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