The Video Assistant Referee system is here to stay, and after its debut weekend in the Premier League, it is already causing controversy and dividing opinion.

The Video Assistant Referee system, known as VAR, is football’s first use of video technology to reach more correct decisions. The system was trialled in the FA and Carabao Cups in each of the last two seasons and has already been employed in Italian and German league football as well as the 2018 World Cup.

What are the rules of VAR being used?

VAR only intervenes in the course of a match when the officials have made a ‘clear and obvious error’ in one of four key areas.


A close offside decision is the most common reason for VAR being consulted after a goal has been scored, but shirt-pulling and other infringements can cause goals to be chalked off.

NB. The concept of ‘clear and obvious’ errors does not apply to offsides. A player is either onside or offside – you cannot be a little bit pregnant. So even if a player is offside by a matter of inches, the goal will be ruled out, which is exactly what happened with Manchester City’s third-goal-that-never-was at West Ham.


The most subjective and potentially problematic area. Penalties can be awarded or rescinded using VAR if there has been a ‘clear and obvious error’ in the original decision.

Straight red cards

Violent conduct and dangerous tackles can be penalised using VAR. Second-yellow cards cannot.

Mistaken identity 

If the referee sends off the wrong player, such as the famous incident with Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in Arsenal’s 6-0 drubbing at Chelsea in 2014, that injustice can be repaired.

The system is restricted to these four areas in order to minimise disruption to the flow of the game.

How does this work in practice?

  • The VAR speaks to the on-field referee through an earpiece or vice versa, and the referee will put his hand up to pause play and inform the players a decision is being reviewed.
  • VAR reviews the video footage of the incident and advises whether or not action should be taken. If there has been an error, the referee will draw a rectangle with his arms to replicate a TV a screen to change his original decision.
  • In the case of more subjective incidents, the VAR will instruct the referee to watch a replay on a pitchside screen. This is known as an on-pitch review.

What changes have the Premier League made to help VAR succeed?  

So far we have covered the VAR rules that have been in place since the system’s inception and were used at the World Cup last summer.

However, the Premier League have enforced some of their own criteria with a view to minimising disruption to the flow of the game.

Referees have been told to avoid on-pitch reviews at the pitch-side screen whenever possible. These types of review are known to cause the longest delays. Instead, on-pitch referees have been told to trust the advice they are given by VAR.

VAR comes to the Premier League | 65 checks across opening 10 matches

Liverpool 4 Norwich 1

Nine checks (including each goal)
None overturned.

West Ham 0 Manchester City 5

Seven checks (including each goal)
Two overturned decisions – Raheem Sterling judged offside in build-up to disallowed third goal, and Declan Rice encroaching at a penalty.

Tottenham 3 Aston Villa 1

Seven checks (including each goal)
None overturned.

Crystal Palace 0 Everton 0

Eight checks
None overturned.

Burnley 3 Southampton 0

Six checks (including each goal)
None overturned.

Bournemouth 1 Sheffield United 1

Six checks (including each goal)
None overturned.

Watford 0 Brighton 3

Six checks (including each goal)
None overturned.

Leicester 0 Wolves 0

Five checks
One decision overturned, with Leander Dendoncker’s goal ruled out after Willy Boly was adjudged to have handled in the build-up.

Newcastle 0 Arsenal 1

Six checks (including the goal)
Not overturned.

Man Utd 4 Chelsea 0

Five checks (including each goal)
Penalty decision was not overturned.

What are some of the criticisms?

There have been several controversies and teething problems during VAR’s trial stages, and the system has many opponents. Their criticisms have included:

  • Fans in the stadium not being aware of when a decision is being reviewed, particularly in venues with no big screen. The Premier League have done their best to ensure big screens are used to relay decisions to fans, although Anfield and Old Trafford do not have this facility. You may have noted the loud tannoy announcements Man Utd use instead.
  • The subjective nature of football’s laws. Despite the availability of replays, there remain debates and disagreements about penalty incidents. Decisions still come down to human interpretation.
  • The time it takes for decisions to be reached disrupts the flow of the match. Some games with VAR in use have produced five or six minutes of first-half stoppage time.
  • The spontaneous joy of goal celebrations being lost due to the possibility of a review, detrimental to the atmosphere in stadiums.
  • Not a criticism of VAR per se – the unsuitability of football’s laws in the age of the high definition, slow-motion replay. For instance, some have argued the offside should be redrafted to try and avoid goals being disallowed over matters of inches, claiming that microscopic analysis of offsides goes against the original spirit of the law.

The post VAR in the Premier League: Controversial or not? appeared first on Online Sports Blog.


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