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Euro 2020 Showed How to Get VAR Technology Right
It's safe to say that video assistant referee (VAR) technology has not been universally popular since its introduction to elite football.
12:26 02 August 2021
In the Premier League, in particular, the reaction has been overwhelmingly negative. Yet, the recent European Championship, which took place across 11 countries in 2021, showed how VAR can be used with minimal impact on the game and with much less controversy.
Dodgy Decisions Remain Part of the Game
That’s not to say the competition didn't have its moments. For example, England’s penalty in the semi-final against Denmark sparked debate as to how much contact was made on Raheem Sterling, who went down in the box to earn the spot-kick. Replays showed contact but some pundits argued it wasn't enough to warrant a penalty.
Of course, the point of view varied according to who you asked. Those supporting Denmark and therefore backed against England disagreed with the decision. However, there weren’t too many England fans complaining on the night.
After a solid performance throughout the preceding matches in the Euros, fans were eager for a jubilant outcome to end the years of hurt. This was reflected by the bookmakers who had England priced with football betting odds of 7/10 to be declared outright winners of the game. As it happened, England were rewarded with the win on that fateful night but sadly the pre-tournament favourites went on to be beaten by 12/1-priced Italy in the final at Wembley.
Raheem Sterling reacts to controversial penalty in England's victory over Denmarkhttps://t.co/XyXCeKhL18 pic.twitter.com/s6VSUTZpQT— Mirror Football (@MirrorFootball) July 7, 2021
In the Sterling incident, the referee had no hesitation in awarding the penalty, and those tasked with reviewing the decision decided not to intervene as there wasn't a clear and obvious error. Had VAR overruled the decision, it still would have been controversial as there was definitely a case for the penalty to be given. In these situations, where the decision is subjective and inconclusive, it's preferable that the VAR staff stake a step back and go with the referee’s original call.
VAR Widely Praised at Euros
Aside from the odd incident, there was widespread praise for the use of the technology and the speed with which the decisions were made. The high standard of refereeing in the competition may have also contributed to the ease with which the system functioned. For the most part, the games flowed with minimal interruption, which has generally been the biggest complaint from fans.
Standards of Refereeing Exposed
There's also the question of whether the use of VAR at the Euros has exposed the standard of refereeing in the Premier League. So many of last season’s English top-flight games ended with VAR as the main talking point that this may be a valid observation.
Premier League referees and video assistants have allowed the technology to dominate the game rather than using it as a simple tool to review tight decisions, quickly and without fuss. It seems, the better the standard of refereeing, the less intrusive and controversial VAR becomes.
The good news is that there appears to be a level of VAR interference that fans will tolerate if the right calls are made and the game is not slowed down too much. With the technology set to stay, and big changes planned, there's reason to be optimistic that the right balance can be found.
Huge VAR change confirmed for the 2021/2022 Premier League season.https://t.co/oQhBzOMdYD— SPORTbible (@sportbible) July 26, 2021
Hopefully, in time, the use of the technology will improve and the decisions will become quicker and more accurate. In the meantime, the Premier League might want to examine the standard of refereeing in the English game to see if any further improvements