Fixing VAR: Can Football’s Replay Review System Be Salvaged? Insights from a Behind-the-Scenes Bundesliga Visit Might Provide Solutions


Ever since its inception in 2017, VAR (Video Assistant Referee) has remained a contentious issue in the global realm of sports. Football’s fluid nature makes implementing instant replay both disruptive and challenging, leading to a rather tumultuous journey for its integration into the sport.

Unkel highlighted the paradoxical desires of fans regarding VAR, stating, “Fans want their cake and they want to eat it too.” She emphasized that while referees didn’t initiate VAR, its presence was propelled by the requests of fans, players, and coaches. Yet, despite its widespread introduction, VAR seems to evoke widespread dissatisfaction.

Acknowledging that VAR is now an integral part of the game, certain critical areas require immediate attention to ensure its efficacy and to regain the support of fans worldwide, particularly amidst mounting opposition to the current system.


Exploring the Challenges of Implementing VAR in Football

1. Uniqueness of Football: Football, unlike many other sports, maintains a continuous flow, making any interruption for reviewing decisions significantly disruptive to players and spectators alike.

2. Subjectivity in Decision-Making: Football incorporates numerous judgment calls, unlike sports with clearer rules, making the application of VAR complex due to the inherent subjectivity in refereeing decisions.

Addressing the Challenges: Vital Steps for VAR’s Improvement

Reinstating the Meaning of “Clear and Obvious” Error:
– VAR was intended to rectify clear and glaring errors, but it has deviated from this principle, leading to frustration and inconsistency.
– Implementing a 30-second timer for judgment calls could encourage a higher burden of proof, ensuring that decisions align with the essence of “clear and obvious” errors.

Leveraging Advancements in Offside Technology:
– The process of determining offside decisions remains a significant source of disruption in VAR.
– Semi-automated offside technology, despite its cost, offers a streamlined solution, minimizing the cumbersome process of manual offside review.

Encouraging Collaboration between Leagues and Tech Partners:
– Leagues partnering with different technology providers hinder a collaborative improvement process.
– A standardized platform for sharing experiences and innovations among VAR technology providers would benefit overall system enhancement.

Promoting Better Treatment of Officials by Fans:
– Referee enrollment is declining, partly due to abuse and hostile environments at various levels.
– Addressing the root cause—improving the environment for referees through training and resources—will enhance officiating quality.

In conclusion, VAR’s integration into football has been tumultuous, primarily due to the sport’s unique characteristics and the challenges of subjectivity in decision-making. By redefining the threshold for VAR intervention, leveraging technological advancements, fostering collaboration among tech partners, and promoting better treatment of officials, football can refine VAR’s implementation, ensuring its alignment with the sport’s essence while regaining fans’ trust.