Earlier this month, the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) invited Spirit of Shankly and representatives of other fans’ groups to attend a presentation on VAR. It was given by Mike Riley, former referee and general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) group.
Before the meeting we asked members and non-members for their opinions and we published our summary here Your Views on VAR.
The FSA have reported back on the meeting and you can read their report here FSA Report.
SOS are now in a position to publish what we were able to say to Mike Riley (PGMOL) and the responses he gave to us.
Here is a summary of our conversation.
John Nicolson, on behalf of Spirit of Shankly
Thank you for your presentation on VAR issues, procedures and processes.
Spirit of Shankly asked members and non-members, and supporters of different teams what they thought about VAR. We collected the information via a ‘tell us what you think’ free form, collated and then published a summary.
We collated the comments and published a summary of what supporters said to us.
There were five main points.
- The introduction of VAR was welcomed by supporters. However, it has changed football for the worse. The spontaneous joy of goal celebrations has been lost.
- VAR was originally intended to be used to correct clear and obvious errors. Instead, it has created another official making a subjective, often inconsistent, call. Similar incidents in different games are judged differently. You said, in your presentation, VAR had been consistently objective with offside decisions. This is not the case for supporters. For example, some offside decisions have been called due to the leading arm of an attacking player, in similar situations the leading arm has been ignored.
- VAR should be used minimally. If the analysis takes more than a short period of time and requires excessive use of slow-motion replays, multiple camera angles or drawing lines to determine shirt-sleeve alignment, the decision called by the on-pitch officials should stand. You said the time taken by VAR to decide is typically less than a minute, but supporters argue it is much longer.
- Match officials should explain the reasons for changes to any decision during a game. I note you said there is a FIFA instruction that referees cannot do this.
- Post-match, the game and VAR officials should be subject to interview by TV and press. Supporters want VAR and its decisions to be transparent and open to scrutiny after the final whistle. You said you regularly report to the PL but it is a few days later. By then you have had time to review incidents and hold discussions to agree your explanation.
Mike Riley, on behalf of PGMOL
The former referee argued VAR offers a second chance of reaction after a goal, citing Manchester City v Tottenham’s Champions League tie. City thought they had scored in the last minute and their fans celebrated, but then when it was overturned, the Spurs supporters went from despair to celebration.
He said PGMOL understood the comments and they were part of the discussion they want to have with all stakeholders. He said it may take five years to get it right with VAR, but many people they had spoken to were happy with ‘offside being offside’ even if by 1mm.
The ‘clear and obvious’ rule does not apply to positional decisions, he said, for which there is no tolerance. These are decided by a 1-pixel margin on the best available camera angles, but they aren’t visible on a TV screen meaning thicker, less accurate lines are shown to the viewers.
Riley said VAR does not get involved with 90% of goals, but they would rather take time to consider everything and many people were happy with that. TV companies with increased manpower can sometimes find better angles than VAR officials do in the time required.
He went on to say that referee’s performances are continually assessed. Dermot Gallagher has a program on Sky after each round of fixtures where he explains why the decisions were made
The FSA have committed to improving communication between the football authorities and supporters, particularly around refereeing decisions and VAR. They have created a VAR working group, made up of supporter representatives, to consult on the issues, build FSA policy in this area and improve the use of technology from the point of view of match-going fans.
SOS hope to remain involved and will keep you updated.