A March 2018 survey of 2,000 Premier League football fans in the UK found, despite largely negative sentiment surrounding VAR in the media, 70% of supporters are in agreement that Video Assistant Referees will have a positive impact on the sport.
Make officiating easier
The VAR survey commissioned by Compare.bet revealed that a whopping 83% of fans believe current referees face a tough task officiating games without the aid of technology, making the need for VAR adoption clearer than ever before.
Premier League fans are well aware of the pressure that comes with being a referee. The judgement of a match official can often have a huge bearing on the outcome of a game, so an unpopular decision –no matter how accurate– can often lead to a backlash from players. Many believe that VAR adoption would the reduce the impact players have on key refereeing decisions, as 57% think player protests can influence the referee during the game. It’s clear that many have faith in VAR’s ability to stamp this element of the game out altogether, with 8 in 10 agreeing this will be eliminated completely when VAR is eventually introduced more widely.
A fairer game
Premier League fans have often pointed to the favourable decisions given by referees to table-topping clubs as a major injustice in the game, with the majority in agreement that the ‘Big 6’ English clubs receive the benefit of the referee’s decisions. Unsurprisingly, 29% of fans believe that the league’s most decorated club, Manchester United, have stood to gain the most from these decisions. This is another issue which fans believe VAR could solve, as 83% also see VAR as a means to level the playing field between clubs at opposite ends of the table, resulting in a more competitive league.
“VAR is one of the most divisive aspects of the modern game. Despite raging media debate, the underlying feeling amongst Premier League fans in the UK is positive. They understand the pressures and difficulties of the modern game and are open to using technology to support referees,” said a spokesperson for Compare.bet.
VAR in the future
Despite overwhelming support for the use of VAR to aid match-changing decisions, the way it’s implemented is still a matter of debate. The International Football Association Board (IFAB) have stated that “there is no time pressure during a review – accuracy is more important than speed”. However, it’s clear that fans disagree, with 7 out of 10 unhappy with the stoppages required to review video footage, pointing to the negative effect this can have on the atmosphere for match-going supporters.
Match officials make hundreds of calls in every game so it would be unrealistic to expect a review of every decision without ruining football as a spectacle. The use of VAR has so far been limited to four categories of match-changing decisions: goals, penalty decisions, direct red cards and mistaken identity.
The results of the survey indicate that many fans would like these categories expanded to cover other reviewable decisions, with diving and violent conduct top of supporters’ wishlist. With 22 different players being cautioned for simulation in the 2016/17 season, it’s clear that there are more pressing issues than mistaken identity, which is an extremely rare occurrence in modern football.
Of course, with the top six Premier League clubs participating in the Champions League and Europa League every season, many will wonder how the introduction of VAR could affect the officiating of Europe’s premier knockout competition. Almost half believe that widespread implementation of VAR will spell the end for the fifth official in the Europa and Champions League, which is particularly interesting in light of recent questions surrounding the value of their input into key match-changing decisions.
When asked about the use of video refereeing in other sports, respondents cited Rugby as the best example, followed by Tennis and Cricket.
The study, conducted via OnePoll.com, also found 76% of fans believe the history of football would have been very different if VAR had been in place. In fact, the top football moment supporters would like to go back and review on was revealed to be Maradona’s famous ‘Hand of God’ goal against England at the 1986 World Cup. This was followed by Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal for England against Germany in the 2010 World Cup, and Thierry Henry’s handball against Ireland to shatter their 2010 World Cup qualifying dreams.
A spokesperson for Compare.bet added, “With FIFA’s recent approval of VAR for use during World Cup 2018, it’s now more crucial than ever to get fans on side and ensure VAR doesn’t detract from the spectacle of the tournament.”
Top 10 football moments fans would most like to go back and use VAR on:
- Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal for Argentina against England at the 1986 World Cup
- Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal for England against Germany at the 2010 World Cup
- Thierry Henry’s handball for France against Ireland in a 2009 World Cup playoff
- Liverpool’s Luis Suarez’s bite on Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic in 2013
- Sol Campbell’s disallowed goal for England against Portugal in the Euro 2004 quarterfinals
- Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs being sent off for handball in 2014, despite the handball being committed by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
- Pedro Mendes’ disallowed 50-yard goal for Tottenham against Man United in 2005
- Man City’s Ben Thatcher’s elbow on Portsmouth’s Pedro Mendes in 2006
- Luis Garcia’s “Ghost Goal” for Liverpool against Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final in 2005
- Holland’s Ronald Koeman’s foul on England’s David Platt in a 1993 World Cup qualifier
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