Are refs becoming too reliant on the VAR?

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Errol Sweeney (Supplied)
Errol Sweeney (Supplied)

Johannesburg - As I’ve mentioned before, and at the risk of becoming repetitious and boring, I’m going to say it again - you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

Lord be with the days when we (referees and assistant referees) just relied on our instincts to make decisions and to hell with the consequences. Today, we have the now famous, or infamous, video assistant referee (VAR) system.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or on another planet, the VAR, which was supposed to be a solution to the diving, cheating and play-acting that players get up to, has added a new dimension to the “beautiful game”.

The players are still acting the fool as they try to hoodwink the match officials at every turn and, it has to be said, are succeeding in many instances - sadly.

This is the fault of the match officials, who have sufficient powers to deal with such shenanigans, but are not using those powers.

I was in favour of the introduction of the VAR because I thought it would stop the skulduggery, but I’m not so sure about it now. The players are still diving and cheating. The managers and their prima donna players are constantly questioning decisions and the referees don’t seem sure about when and when not to use it.

In a radio interview I gave during the week, I suggested that we (match officials) should be called reactionaries and not referees. After all, isn’t that what we do? We see an incident and we react to it.

We see a hand ball, we give a free kick. We see violent conduct, we give a red card. It’s human instinct.

I believe we should get back to basics - we should do the simple things and do them well.

Many other leagues or cup competitions don’t have the VAR. What about them? They have to rely on the referee and his assistants and trust that they are up to speed on the laws of the game and will do their honest best to be fair to both teams.

Sure, it will be argued that the World Cup is important, but the question is, important to whom? Other league and cup games are also important. They don’t have, and are not likely to get, the VAR, either now or at some point in the future. What then?

The other issue I think is important to raise is that the referees appear to be too reliant on the VAR, and that can be dangerous. Now they won’t even make a decision in case it is wrong - and there have been cases in which referees have got decisions wrong only to reverse that decision following consultation with the VAR.

Managers, TV commentators, coaches and pundits also have to ease off. They are quick to go to their own action replays and highlight where the referee made the wrong decision. It makes for good television. How wonderful to have a slow-mo function so they can make themselves into some kind of expert.

How great to always be right when you have such equipment to amplify the point that “the ref got that one wrong”. Fantastic, eh?

Referees had only one chance before the VAR to get it right. The problem now is that referees, because they are being castigated in the electronic and print media for making a mistake, will hesitate before making a decision, and then the managers and coaches will be jumping up and down saying the VAR is slowing the game down and taking the excitement out of the match.

Well, managers and coaches, you can’t have your cake and eat it. Make up your mind and let us know. We have only one chance (minus the VAR) to make a decision. You either accept it, or the call by referees to increase the number of decisions currently in force for the VAR to operate from four to whatever will grow louder and louder.

Follow me on Twitter @dr_errol

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