One of the major talking points in soccer in recent years has been the introduction of video technology. While other major sports, like the NFL, have utilized video replays as part of the officiating of matches for several years, the concept is relatively new to the round-ball code.
Most notably, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR)’s addition to Premier League fixtures this season has caused no shortage of controversy. And while many are supporters of the system, to others it’s an annoyance that unnecessarily delays the game.
So far this season, it is fair to say that VAR has helped overturn incorrect refereeing decisions where a goal has been scored, or contention surrounding a penalty decision. But many will argue that there are just as many examples of VAR getting it wrong.
It was hoped that VAR would help relieve pressure on match day referees and their assistants but. in fact, the player protests are just as passionate as they’ve always been, while the managers continue to complain about key decisions in their post-match press interviews.
VAR has also had an impact on Premier League betting. Some bookmakers even offer money back if a decision is reversed following a video replay, while it has also resulted in bookies’ suspending markets for longer periods to allow for VAR checks.
But, although VAR is probably the most controversial innovation to be introduced to the sport, it’s not the first time technology has been utilized to aid soccer referees and their assistants.
Following successful trials in international competitions, the FA formally introduced ‘Hawk-Eye’ goal-line technology to Premier League matches ahead of the 2013/14 season, and it is gradually being rolled out to more competitions, including the Women’s Champions League.
The technology rules whether or not the ball has fully crossed the goal-line and sends an alert to a connected watch worn by the referee.
This innovation has proven to be far less contentious than VAR, as it has succeeded in solving a long-standing and singular issue. While VAR still relies on human input and analysis, across a number of potential infringements, Hawk-Eye is able to deliver a clear, visible, and indisputable decision.
Perhaps the most famous example of why the technology was needed came in 2005, when replays clearly showed the ball crossing the line after Manchester United’s Roy Carroll had scrambled to clear a long-range shot from Tottenham Hotspur’s Pedro Mendes.
But the goal was ruled out by linesman Rob Lewis and the game finished goalless, leaving Spurs boss Martin Jol and the rest of the Spurs team feeling mightily frustrated.
Incidents like these led to the introduction of Hawk-Eye, though it’s perhaps inaccurate to say that there were similar factors leading to the innovation of VAR. In the case of VAR, it appears to have been driven instead by the availability of the technology.
And though the technology used is certainly impressive, it may be some time before VAR is as entrenched in the game as strongly as goal-line technology is. It’s up to the Premier League and the FA to win supporters over, although it may take a little patience.
The NRL in Australia has utilized video technology for more than 20 years and is still making changes to how the concept works, in an effort to keep supporters onside. It’s certain that the Premier League will also be assessing improvements it can make to VAR as the seasons roll by.
With many different suggestions on how to improve the accuracy of referee decisions currently being breached, such as the interesting avenue of using Augmented Reality technology, time will only tell what the scene will look like in a couple of years.