VAR Shaking Up The Premier League

December 06, 2019

- Grant Whittington

Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology has been extensively trialled in various Football events, and was written into the International Football Association Board’s Laws of the Game in 2018. The idea is to deliver “maximum benefit” with “minimum interference”, but some fans and bettors feel that it has not achieved this aim – in fact, they believe it’s done the opposite.

How VAR Works

With VAR, the remote team stationed in the Video Operation Room automatically checks every decision made by the on-field referee during a game in 4 categories; Goal/No Goal, Penalty/No Penalty, Direct Red Card and Mistaken Identity when a red or yellow card is given.

If no mistake in the on-field ruling is detected, play proceeds. If a possible error is seen, play is delayed while further investigations are carried out. The on-field referee indicates that this is happening by pointing to their ear.

Premier League Implementation

Australia’s A-League became the first top-flight professional club contest to adopt the VAR system, in 2017. Europe’s Bundesliga and Serie A introduced the video system at the start of the 2017/2018 season, and La Liga followed suit when the 2018/2019 season began.

The 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup also used VAR, and it was trialled in England for the first time on 8 January 2018 during the Brighton & Hove Albion/Crystal Palace FA Cup match. Further trials and introductions in top-level Football continued, and on 15 November 2018 VAR was voted in by Premier League teams.

The vote was in principal only, meaning the decision may still be reversed. Final approval must come from both the International Football Association Board (IFAB) and FIFA, and at the moment that decision is still pending. For now, the video refereeing system is to be used from the 2019/2020 season onwards.

Issues with PL Implementation

Since the approval of IFAB and FIFA is still pending, and some insiders say the VAR system has still not been fully tested, it’s not entirely surprising that the decision to use it in Premier League games has generated some controversy.

Critics say that the decisions from off the field take too long to arrive, and that the use of the video technology takes away some of the magic of The Beautiful Game. For many people, part of the beauty of Football is, in one fan’s words, “the poetry of its chaos”.

Impact on Bettors

If players and spectators have been adversely affected by the introduction of VAR, what has happened with bettors? Interestingly, they have benefitted – although this is probably not going to be the case for much longer.

In August 2019, Tottenham and Manchester City were drawing 2-2 at an Etihad Stadium match. Brazilian Gabriel Jesus, playing as a City forward, scored a final goal in the last few minutes of play. He, and everyone else watching, believed it was a legitimate goal that had secured victory for his team. However, VAR ruled the goal a handball against Aymeric Laporte.

Ultimately, City was denied and the Spurs were reprieved. In the confusion that followed, as the decision was awaited, wily SkyBet bettors recognised the change in the odds of a City win and cashed out significant amounts of their stakes accordingly.

In other words, armchair experts got a legitimate jump on match officials. However, now that sportsbooks have become wise to this advantage wagers are suspended while goals are scored and the VAR process is completed.

Not only is the time-lag advantage now being eliminated for those putting money on the game, but the way players are behaving is also changing. Athletes like Nemanja Matic, who are proficient in what pundits call “the dark arts” – fouling someone subtly enough to avoid being seen by the on-field referee – are spending far less time on the pitch. To win their stakes, bettors need to take the new hesitations and moves on the field into account.

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