— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) April 18, 2019
You do not have to be a football fan to have heard of the Hand of God, the infamous World Cup 1986 incident in which Argentina’s Diego Maradona miraculously leapt above the England goalkeeper to “head” the ball into the back of the net. Of course, when the replays were shown, it turned out that it was much more likely Maradona stuck his hand up and punched the ball into the back of the net to take the victory. It is still one of the pivotal points of contention in the history of football.
Of course, at the time, there was nothing that could have been done and it was extremely hard for the referee to see what had actually happened. But with the advent of VAR technology, that should no longer be the case. Yet, somehow, the jury is still out as to whether the technology should be embraced as a means of avoiding more controversies like this, or whether it should not be trusted because it will lead to further controversies itself. Put simply, this seems to be a matter of fear of change and a resulting pervasive distrust in new technologies.
Gavin Hunt, the coach of major South African football team, Bidvest Wits, has called for VAR to be introduced in the South African league, after his team fell victim to a clear error by the referee, as is reported by The Southafrican. Hunt cites the fact that football is becoming an increasingly fast game and referees’ jobs are becoming more difficult as a result. A more than fair point and a good reason to incorporate sound technology.
As mentioned, though, VAR still has a number of strong detractors. Interestingly, it was Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino who spoke out about VAR after his side passed Manchester City in this year’s Champions League quarter-final. This despite the fact that it was his team that the VAR decisions favoured, and his side who are now in the final of that competition with odds of 59/20 to win it, according to Redbet. He said he was still uncertain of whether VAR would have a positive impact on the game.
According to FT, there have been reports that advertisers are looking to monetise VAR breaks, which, if the offer is right, will almost certainly mean the proliferation of VAR across many leagues. Regardless of the scale of debate going on around it, the potential of more earnings will more than likely outweigh the power of any concerns.
In the short term, VAR will create some imperfect situations. But embracing technology sooner rather than later will help to improve it at a faster rate and move towards a perfect system. Being indecisive and sticking our heads in the sand about whether to proliferate will not help anything. The realisation that serious money could be made on advertising will certainly improve the situation, but in order to further develop the technology, what really needs to happen is for the players, coaches and referees to embrace it and work together to steadily improve it.