Tech in Sports: The Great VAR Debate

As technology’s influence in professional sports increases, it waters down human interaction. Most sports tech aims to improve players’ safety, monitor performances to make the coach’s jobs easier, and ensure the paying public receives the best service possible. From training stats to cooling centers at soccer games at the FIFA World Cup in Dubai, tech has positively impacted many areas of sport. But it hasn’t been as well-received as planned.


Tech brings supporters the latest stats, enhancing their predictions and bringing the best online sportsbook bonuses at the click of a button. The latest technology also allows coaches to monitor their players’ performances in real-time, helping to justify selections and changes. Look at recruitment in the English Premier League, and you’ll notice most respected coaches use tech to filter players by abilities, stats, and times.


Gone are the days of experienced coaches visiting multiple games every month to find the next rising star. If you’re a hard-working college football player with dreams of playing in the NFL, you better hope your numbers measure up, or your ability will go unnoticed. We’re already seeing the top teams remove their dated scouting department and replace their boots-on-the-ground approach with modern, tech-driven stats.


Contentious issues

If you work in tech and like to follow professional sports, you may ask, what’s all the fuss about? If technology is helping coaches find better players and fans get closer to the action, what’s the issue? Surely, tech is improving sport by dragging it into the 21st century. That would be a fair question, too, and, for the most part, tech has improved sports like soccer tenfold. But there’s one area of pro soccer fans believe tech should stay out of, and that’s the decision-making process.


Certain tech helps soccer officials correct big decisions as often as possible. With so much money involved in the modern game and the top teams so evenly matched, it’s unfair for a referee or assistant to get a big call wrong and cost one team a money-spinning championship. Soccer at the highest level, including the Premier League, Champions League, and the World Cup, requires accurate decisions, not most of the time but all of the time. That’s only possible with the help of technology.


Cue the arrival of the Virtual Assistant Referee, better known to soccer and sports fans as VAR. It’s the biggest change to the game in history, taking major decisions like offside, penalties, and goals off the officials and onto video. The tech scrutinizes the big decisions, ensuring the right decision every time. But there’s still room for human error, and many fans believe VAR has taken the excitement out of soccer.


How? Let’s look at some examples and the opinions of dedicated soccer fans who have seen goals given and withdrawn by a piece of kit that makes headlines every Monday morning following an action-packed weekend of fixtures.


Pros and cons of VAR

To shed some light on why VAR is such a contention issue with millions of soccer fans worldwide, let’s briefly highlight the pros and cons of the most famous sports technology. The positives of VAR are obvious, and the system reads and looks like a great idea on paper, but it flagged some interesting problems and errors when live. VAR has been in the Premier League for a few seasons, long enough for fans to form a reasonable and fact-based opinion.


Positives of VAR

  • It gets the big decisions correct regarding offside.
  • It allows referees to look at incidents like tackles inside the box again to make a better-informed decision.
  • Fans see the footage and understand why officials arrived at their conclusion.
  • It can award goals originally canceled due to a wrong offside decision.
  • It benefits the attacking team when offside decisions are marginal to incredibly tight.


Criticisms of VAR

  • Although VAR gives officials in-depth and slow-motion replays, it remains open to judgment.
  • Making the correct decision can be time-consuming, often taking several minutes.
  • Communication between the VAR team, referee, and officials must be faultless.
  • The camera angles on the pitch must be exact for VAR to be effective, especially for offside and fouls.
  • It’s extremely expensive, with leagues paying for the technology, staff, and comms.



Watch a soccer game before the arrival of VAR, and it lasted 90 minutes with a handful of extra minutes added for stoppages. In most games at the top level, you’d see an average of two to three minutes of stoppage time added at the end. VAR shook things up, and most games now last over 100 minutes. That can be dangerous for players regarding fitness and injuries. How can the Video Assistant Referee change added-on time from three minutes to ten minutes?

VAR has impacted the duration of games due to stoppages. Every goal scored in open play is scrutinized to the last detail. Was the player offside, was there a foul during the build-up, and was it in the same phase of play? Officials in the VAR room immediately get to work answering those questions as soon as the ball hits the net. In an ideal world, that would take seconds, but in reality, it’s taking minutes. The time taken checking adds to the stoppages in play for fouls, time-wasting, and general play.


Then there’s the enjoyment of fans. Following some high-profile goals canceled by the intervention of VAR, many soccer supporters are reluctant to cheer a goal and only celebrate after it has passed VAR. Can you imagine your team scores a last-minute winner in the FA Cup final against a bitter rival, and you jump out of your seat, only to sit back down embarrassed when it’s ruled out? More fans either aren’t celebrating goals as hard as they once did or are waiting for permission from the VAR team to cheer.


What is VAR’s future in top-level soccer? The technology will improve, but it’s painfully slow and reduces the matchday atmosphere. VAR must work to speed things up while lowering operating costs to allow it into every level of soccer.

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