Video Referee — For Justice Or Ratings?

IN A technologically enriched world, it is curious indeed that video refereeing doesn’t play a significant role in football.

Major sports like rugby, cricket, tennis and baseball have all adopted technology to assist referees and umpires. This curtails controversies, which is a positive for players, managers, coaches and the paying public, who all invariably want fair contests. If decisions are transparent and referees are made accountable, that is good for any sport, too. It basically protects it.

Similarly, controversies associated with refereeing decisions in football can be curtailed if key on-field decisions are scrutinised on video by an off-field referee. There are always many cameras in professional football games, so it is not like the technology is unavailable.

In late March, video refereeing technology was successfully used in a friendly game between Spain and France at the Stade de France in Paris. Spain won 2-0 through a penalty by David Silva and a goal by Gerard Deulofeu. The goal by Deulofeu was initially ruled out for offside but the decision was overturned by the video assistant referee. At the other end, France’s Antoine Griezmann had a goal correctly disallowed by the video assistant referee.

Taking The Beauty Out Of The Game?

One of the French players, Kylian Mbappe, commented that the technology was great but the time taken to review the decisions was too long. British pundit Adrian Durham of the talkSPORT radio programme, tweeted that the video assistant referee “completely destroyed the atmosphere in the Stade de France, killing our beautiful game”.

In contrast, football writer Philippe Auclair tweeted “Video referee called upon in France-Spain, Griezmann’s lovely “goal” rightly ruled offside.”

At the end of the day, the result was a fair one and accepted with, to use Auclair’s words, “no recriminations, no fuss, no problem”.

Maybe it helped that it was only a friendly match. Imagine the pressure on the video assistant referee if the match was the World Cup Final instead. Yes, the pressure would be immense, but video replays don’t deceive and any decisions based on them would likely be accepted in good grace, as they are in all other sports.

Meanwhile, Mbappe’s comments that the technology took too long was put to the test and it was found that the video assistant referee took about 40 seconds to give Deulofeu a favourable decision. This is not much longer than time-wasting tactics sometimes employed by lesser teams, especially their goalkeepers, when they are leading against better teams.

Banking On Controversy

Arguably, the biggest eye-opener about the situation with video assistant referees proved to be Adrian Durham’s comments. He has a reputation for stirring controversies and understandably so. People are more likely to tune in to his radio programme when controversies are discussed.

Indeed, pundits on television and radio need controversies to boost their ratings. Newspapers need controversies for sales.

If there are no controversies to discuss in a game, there will be nothing to talk about apart from an exceptional goal from a striker or fantastic save from a goalkeeper. This doesn’t happen too often in the real world.

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Big Money In The Game

To generate and sustain interest in professional football, controversies have to be generated. This is most apparent in the English Premier League, which continues to resist the use of video assistant referees for games.

However, controversies cannot be generated in isolation, and the main source of these are the referee’s decisions. Sending off playerss, penalty kicks, offsides all come under the purview of the on-field referee and his two linesmen. It seems a big load for them to bear, and they should welcome all the help they can get. Further, the modern game moves so quickly that it seems prudent to help the on-field officials with video technology.

It should be said that the fundamentals of the English Premier League are strong. Broadcasting rights are very lucrative and the global fan base is massive. The league is seen to be the most competitive in Europe and not dominated by one or two teams. The high fees paid for broadcasting rights feed back to the clubs and ultimately the players. They are paid enormous sums of money. So, it is in everyone’s best interest to keep to the status quo.

The biggest nightmare for the English Premier League is if people stop tuning in to watch games.

Thus, the big picture is to create situations that keep people interested. Creating controversies is a tried and tested path, and will continue to be spearheaded by the likes of Durham and his counterparts in television and the newspapers. At the end of the day, the English Premier League is a tool to generate money—for league administrators, referees club owners, players and their agents.

Measures that protect the integrity of the game like video assistant referees only get in the way of the lucrative pursuit of money.

Main Image: AlexLMX / EFKS /

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