By Paul MacInnes
Only 26 percent of English fans support the use of VAR (virtual assistant referee system) in football, according to damning research that will form part of a Premier League study into the refereeing technology.
The English top flight is currently running a consultation across the game in the hope of improving VAR next season. But with little room to manoeuvre, the results of a study conducted by the Football Supporters’ Association will make for challenging reading.
Of match-going fans who replied to a survey conducted by the FSA, 95 percent said VAR made the experience of watching a game less enjoyable with 44 percent saying they would be less likely to attend a match in future as a result.
The distaste was barely less striking among fans who watched on TV, with 94 percent saying it had a negative impact. Both sets of fans agreed that VAR’s impact on the ability to celebrate a goal, and the time it took to resolve decisions were the most frustrating aspects of its use. The FSA consulted more than 33,000 fans in what it described as the largest survey of its kind.
“There is a clear feeling among fans that VAR has ruined the spontaneity of goal celebrations, and taken away a big part of our most enjoyable matchday moments,” said the FSA’s vice-chair Tom Greatrex. “We hope that the Premier League and referees’ body PGMOL will hear the fans’ voice and take urgent steps to improve a system that isn’t delivering clear and understandable decisions in stadiums.”
What the Premier League will actually be able to do about the complaints raised by fans remains a moot point, however. PGMOL points to reduced decision times this season, while new rules complicated by VAR, such as handball, have been interpreted.
Bigger changes such as the implementation of automated offside technology and an interpretation of the offside law that gives more benefit to the attacker – ruling out controversial ‘offside by an armpit’ decisions – are only at the trial stage, however.
The key issue for fans – that of a loss of spontaneity – will to some extent always be a part of VAR. Earlier this year, the president of Fifa, Gianni Infantino, even said it was good for the game. “Now if there is a doubt you check, you wait, you see and that’s the adrenaline that makes football how it is: the waiting for a result”, he said. – The Guardian (UK)