Euro 2020 Special

Premier League reveals VAR errors

When the Premier League introduced VAR (Video Assistant Referee) technology at the start of the 2019/2020 season, it was hoped that this might reduce the endless debates in football about officiating decisions, and that there would be incontrovertible proof about the rights and wrongs of various calls.

Those aspirations have somewhat foundered on the fact that the technology is operated by humans, who are not only capable of making mistakes, but also in interpreting the rules in differing ways.

And because fans in the stadiums do not get to see the same replays as those watching at home, many VAR decisions appear baffling, and in some cases, completely mistaken to them.

Now an independent review has found six clear VAR errors in the Premier League this season before the break for the World Cup. The man now in charge of Premier League officials, Howard Webb, is determined to cut down the number of errors.


What is VAR?

VAR is the use of broadcast technology to monitor the action in a game in real-time, using as many angles as possible. Contentious incidents will be reviewed from as many angles as possible, using slow motion replays when required.

If they believe that the referee has made an error, or has missed a particular incident, then VAR officials can recommend to the referee that he change his mind or consult the pitch-side monitor.

In the case of the Premier League, VAR officials, who are all fully qualified referees, are not in attendance at matches themselves, but are based in Stockley Park, to the west of London, where they watch games remotely.

There are two full-time VAR officials, and they are supplemented each weekend by other referees who rotate in and out of the facility.


Errors this season

Each weekend, an independent panel, which is comprised of three former players, a representative from the Premier League and one from the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited) review the various incidents where VAR was used, and report back to clubs the following week, indicating where mistakes were made.

And, now it has been revealed that six clear errors were made in the first months of this season.

They include the decision to rule out the goal that Gabriel Martinelli thought he had scored to put Arsenal ahead against Manchester United at Old Trafford, and to deny West Ham a late penalty in their game at Chelsea.

Meanwhile, for football fans, what appeared to be an egregious error, when an own goal by Crystal Palace’s Tyrell Mitchell against Newcastle United for an alleged foul on the goalkeeper in the build-up, has turned out to be exactly that.


Why it matters?

Whilst refereeing errors are part and parcel of football, at every level of the sport, they can have profound consequences in the Premier League, affecting the outcome of matches, and, ultimately where teams finish at the end of a season.

To know that a team was relegated in effect because of a VAR error or missed out on lucrative European football because of it is not only galling to the fans of the clubs involved, but, more broadly, undermines the faith in the technology. And it can even cost managers their jobs, if a defeat via a VAR error proves to be one too many as far as club directors are concerned.


Howard Webb

Howard Webb is now hoping to rectify some of these issues, having taken over as the PGMOL’s chief refereeing officer, with the brief to improve the standards of refereeing generally, and in the VAR room.

A very experienced former referee himself – he took charge of the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands – he has recently returned to the UK after spells with the Saudi Arabian Football Association and in the MLS, where he was closely involved with VAR.

A dedicated VAR coach has been appointed to work closely with the Stockley Park team, whilst Webb himself plans to visit all Premier League clubs in the New Year, to key personnel about what they expect from referees.

He hopes to open up a dialogue that will facilitate change, whilst trying to manage expectations at the same time. Webb knows that it is impossible to eradicate mistakes completely, but minimising them is a start.




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