When the powers that be decided to introduce the video assistant referee (VAR) system, little did they think or even comprehend that it would cause so much debate and controversy.
In fact, VAR was to be the best thing since sliced bread and the answer to all queries, questions and discussions.
The system only intervenes when an official has made a “clear and obvious error”, or when there have been “serious missed incidents” in one of four areas – goals, penalty decisions, direct red card incidents and mistaken identity.
In recent times, the Premier League added a fifth element to that list – the goalkeeper moving off their line at the taking of a penalty kick.
It must be pointed out, however, that “the decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final”.
International Football Association Board (Ifab) law 5 – referees
The purpose of today’s column is to investigate whether VAR is in conflict with the Ifab laws of the game.
I think it is, particularly where offside (law 11) is concerned.
Law 11 states that a player is in an offside position if “any part of the head, body or feet is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent”.
Of course, there is a slight addition to this now to include the upper arm, where, if that part of the body is in front of the second-last defender, then that player is offside. This only came into force recently, and no doubt you’ve seen at least one or perhaps more occasions when goals have been ruled out for this very reason.
VAR now intervenes in offside like never before. As I mentioned in previous columns, if there was doubt about whether a player was offside or not, the doubt would usually go to the attacking player. But with VAR, there is no doubt any more.
So should law 11 be amended? My feeling is that it will be when the next Ifab meeting takes place next year.
I have another bone of contention to discuss with you. How is the referee going to decide whether the ball hits the player on the upper part of the arm? How will they decide if it’s the upper or lower part of the arm/shoulder? Will they need the support of VAR to decisively show that everything is legal and correct?
Then there’s the issue of the ball itself. The circumference of a size 5 ball is between 68cm and 70cm when correctly inflated. This, of course, is for senior matches and does not include small footballs for schoolkids. But what about the diameter? I just measured my grandson’s size 4 ball and it was approximately 21cm.
With these dimensions in mind, how does a referee then decide if a ball hit the player on the legal part of the arm (upper) or not?
I think the waters are getting muddier and muddier, and it’s making life harder for match officials who are already under pressure.
Ifab, in its desire to make the laws more flexible, is doing the opposite.
Football used to be a simple game, but not any more – it’s become complicated and confusing.
The law of holes says: “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
Seems to me like some at Ifab need to heed the caution.
I’ll be discussing these and many other issues on my new online programme, Monday Review Show, on Facebook at 8pm.
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