Ambiguity vs certainty and Talksport’s campaign to undermine video refereeing

by Don McMahon

Don is a retired referee who worked at NASL and international level

That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

I recently read an article about the France-Spain friendly played last week and its successful use of video refereeing technology.

There were numerous comments from pundits and retired players about the use of technology but the most interesting was from a player who actually participated in the match (Mbappe) who said that this technology was great but that the time required to get decisions took too long. However, when the actual videos were timed, it took an average of 45 seconds to consult with the video referee, discuss the specifics and make a decision….well worth the time spent as it saved two serious errors at least. The official seemed happy to use the video referee and certainly the teams accepted the decisions with good grace.

What really astonished me was the comment that the British pundit, Talkshite’s Adrian Durham made on Twitter about all this technology: ¨Video asst ref just completely destroyed the atmosphere in the Stade de France. Killing our own beautiful game.¨

The French pundit Phillipe Auclair loved the video refereeing and said: ¨Video referee called upon in France-Spain, Griezmann’s lovely ‘goal’ rightly ruled offside. No recriminations, no fuss, no problem.¨ and Stan Collymore summed it up perfectly: ¨Problem is you can’t disagree on a matter of fact as it’s a fact. Can’t see why anyone would want ambiguity when you can have certainty.¨

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of video referees, from the point of view of the referees, the spectators, the players and the managers.

99% of the referees I know would love to have access to video referees in order to avoid uncertainty, errors, misunderstandings, misinterpretations and injustices due to human error AND possible bias. Any system that promises to take the guesswork out of officiating and remove the ambiguity inherent in human judgements is welcomed.

As Auclair said: no recriminations, no fuss, and no problem. The ONLY reasons I can fathom for an official not wanting to have his or her decisions video reviewed are:

  1. Their egos are too tender to take the questioning that such video reviews would bring down on them, or their egos are so big that they deem themselves perfect, or they are stuck in the past,
  2. They need to hide their decisions from scrutiny because there is something crooked about them. Such scrutiny would take the power from them and give it to a just and fair hearing that would correct any ¨errors¨, wilful or accidental.
  3. They don’t like the idea of delaying a game to review their decisions and feel that it will all even out in the end?
  4. They don’t like the added technology and equipment required to make video reviews work.

The spectators might not like having goals awarded or called back or other key game incidents changed but in the end they realize that justice is more important than winning unfairly. Imagine IF video technology had been used in all EPL games since 2005! I am convinced that things would have changed significantly.

The players want to win, but I do NOT believe that the majority want to win at all costs to the Game or their reputations.

Thierry Henry was ashamed of his handball against Ireland once he was confronted with the injustice of it all. This incident coloured his remaining career and sullied his reputation, certainly in the eyes of the Irish. Players welcome fairness and immediate decisions that protect the game, as they did during the France-Spain friendly. Nobody protested once the video decisions were rendered and the game went on without any dispute. It was reassuring and pleasing to see the game played in a 21st century atmosphere.

Managers support the video review process, if it’s applied consistently and rapidly as happened in this game. I don’t believe ANY EPL manager has come out against such technology, and they already support goal-line technology 100%. It is only dinosaurs like Durham who have their heads so far up their posteriors that they think black is the new white.

There are some cons about such technology, such as equipment failure, signal interference (natural or wilful), length of time to render decisions, added time at the end of the match or video reviewers being clandestinely influenced by the dark powers that seem to inhabit Football today. These can all be adequately addressed by further technological improvements, closer scrutiny of video officials, slight changes to the Laws to accommodate video reviews and so on.

I would of course encourage UA readers to come on here and provide their arguments, for or against or in-between, but let me be clear….I am 100% convinced that this technology would improve and protect the game as never before, AND would ensure that justice is seen to be done, not just pantomimed by Riley and his minions.

Elsewhere on Untold

Why referees should be under the control of an outside body

No hints of progress from those who (unlike most of us) were paid to watch England.



22 Replies to “Ambiguity vs certainty and Talksport’s campaign to undermine video refereeing”

  1. Never thought I would agree with Stan Collymore but he is right. You can’t argue with a fact.

  2. Good read Don, and your point about refs not wanting to be undermined by the tech is soooooh true.
    I thought France v Spain was an excellent introduction to the masses,and we were fortunate to get two superb examples of it in action. Of course the players responses in a competitive game might be different though.
    It’s no surprise that the likes of Durham, Savage & Ince came out against, but what will interesting will be Riley’s response. He certainly wont want his boys to be undermined, but if he disses this type of progressive tech he will be revealed in his true colours.

  3. Your last paragraph Don, says it all.
    Surely no-one yearning for more accuracy in decision making in the beautiful game could vote against VR. 😉

  4. It is only dinosaurs like Durham who have their heads so far up their posteriors that they think black is the new white.

    What does this mean?

  5. Just curious, but I do wonder how far in the passage of play will a VAR review when a goal is scored; in particular I remember two games last season at Ashburton Grove (Leicester?) where an Arsenal player was cleared fouled from behind at one end allowing the opposition to gain possession and go down Arsenal end and score in same possession. Can anyone shed light whether that would be reviewed?

  6. Northern Nuge
    I suppose it’s reasonable to assume that the off-field crews will be monitoring the match on their screens (in real time), so will see the development of play in the same way as viewers, but it’s up to the referee to request a review in the first place.
    Also they will be pressured to give correct assessments because TV studios will have similar equipment and able to also provide on the spot action replays, as they did on Tuesday.

  7. To be clear, I’m totally for it. However, the midweek game introduced us to only one aspect of it, and it happened to be the one with by far the least scope for error, controversy or credible complaint.

    Two giant decisions, both of which were originally wrong, corrected efficiently and with none of the normal business of players and managers complaining or imploring. Incredible stuff, a huge success

    The fun and games however have not yet begun. Offsides of that nature are a matter of objective fact in much the way the ball crossing the line is. When the ball ends in the net, freeze the tape at the right instant, job done, justice delivered.

    For all the other uses, including more difficult offsides with their different phases and interfering or non-interfering players, it’s another ballgame, with a mass of issues about the mechanics of using the video ref, and the matter of the officials making their subjective calls in the end.

    I don’t have much trust at all that pgmol will make much better calls on penalties and potential red card incidents, in the early years at least (they could be shamed into it later on).

    I’d guess, Rojo’s two would be reds, maybe three if they looked at his little stamp on Hazard; Xhaka’s would still be reds; Zlatan and Mings would have been reds on the pitch; Mclean would still get away with yellow.

    For us in particular, we’d benefit from rivals seeing reds a bit more than they currently do, but I’d still expect us to be severely punished when possible, with the opposition being let off. I predict that will exacerbate some of the injustices for us.

    Cahill, Sanchez; Carroll on Kos, Mclean on Sanchez- would you trust our refs to even refer them to the video official or for the video official to make a different judgement than the refs, with excellent views each time, did in those incidents? Not me, and it will drive me extra nuts.

    Anyway, my hope is that it is inevitable now that the technology will succeed, but it is a long rocky road ahead. If the naysayers could find complaint with how it was used in its simplest and most beneficial form this week, once the decisions become more complicated and some problems strike they will run wild with it.

    The good news is that even if they try make a case on the back of that to stop it happening, the successful implementation elsewhere- Germany in particular, where I expect it to prove itself right from the off- should force their hands.

    The change this will bring to football is quite staggering, but if all of us who believe something is deeply wrong and rotten within pgmol are correct, we have to expect that to continue into the era of video refereeing. Even in the short-term, we should be slightly better off than before, though much of that will come from games we aren’t involved in, and it’s only with clear offside issues I expect us to benefit directly early on.

    In the long game though, pressure will ,hopefully, eventually tell:

    The strong pressure, I believe, which will naturally occur to let people hear the microphone feeds when the game is stopped for review, which should in turn then lead to demand to hear it all the time

    the microscope it will put on player and manager behaviour, which should leave people asking, well if they can behave respectfully for giant calls when its in the video official’s hands, why not at other times?

    People will get used to better decisions being made at certain key times, especially for offsides, and this will make them want better decisions all around.

    It could take many years, with grievous injustices along the way, but there’s real reason to hope we can be much better off for it eventually. With the current order of Riley Pgmob there was literally no reason to hope for an improvement

  8. Adrian Durham has often said that he would hate video technology to be introduced as it would stop a lot of ‘clever’ teams from finishing higher in the league and he has

    openly praised Son Heung-Min and Dele Alli for diving to win penalties this season stating that these players love their club so much they are prepared to cheat at all

    costs.Imagine where teams like Leicester and Tottenham would truly finish if we had used video technology for penalties and offside’s over the past couple of seasons.They

    should be pushing for it to be used in all Premiership games not just FA Cup next season..

  9. I can imaging Riley dusting off video’s of former Iraqi Information Minister Muhammed Saeed, who ended almost every comment with:

    “And that’s a fact”


    “My referees are the world’s best, and that’s a fact”
    “My referees get 98% of decisions correct, and that’s a fact”
    “Unless my referees feel they may have made a mistake, I will be instructing them NOT to request a VAR, and that’s a fact”
    “if my referees make decisions that are not consistent with my instructions, I will send them to Grimsby v Doncaster, and that’s a fact”

  10. Norman 14

    It’s your third point that’s the most likely (and worrying).
    Significant that Riley has remained silent on this issue since Tuesday. You’d expect the boss of the referees would be right out there saying something wouldn’t you?
    Still, there’s no way this genie is going to be reinserted into the bottle, so he’ll have some decisions to make.

  11. Norman 14

    Actually, when I think about it more your third point is how this is supposed to be interpreted. The referee has to have cause to call for a review. My concern is that they will not call for one even when one is required.

  12. Leon, they said in commentary for the game that either a ref can ask assistant to look at something or video ref can flag something up to ref.

    For that reason, it seems essential to me that to get serious benefits from it with pgmol in charge we need to hear refs at all times.

    In the rugby, you quite often hear a ref respond, to words, often unheard to viewers, from video ref or linesman, ‘no, no; I saw that and I’m happy with it.’

    If we don’t hear ref’s mike, we’d have no way of knowing when that happens in football, just like at the moment we have no way of knowing when fouls are flagged by a linesman or when,say, a red is given on their word. Howard Webb’s book made clear that in his case he frequently relied on linesman for much more than offside calls.

    We have less transparency now with mikes than we used to when refs and linesman could be seen consulting over decisions, as with Sol’s red card for the elbow on Solsjkaer. That’s up on internet for all to see that it was linesman who made that call.

    It’ll be a long road to get to that stage but my hope is eventually we do. The game would be radically transformed- players, refs, managers- before that happens, and then even more so afterwards, and pgmol would be badly exposed unless they got considerably better.

    I think it could take 5-10 years.

  13. Rich
    I didn’t know that the Video ref can alert the on-field ref. Makes it a bit more foolproof, but still needs a long way to go.
    Eventually I’m sure that we’ll be able to see what they see (we already can with the TV studios giving action replays of any incident almost simultaneously), and as you say some audio will go a long way.

  14. Leon..

    I’d place abet that they don’t request a VAR and are wrong a lot more times than they are right.

    The question (as asked by you, me and several others) is: How will we know? You can bet your life that TV companies will very quickly be shown the error of their ways if they start showing slowmo replays to prove the ref was wrong.

  15. I thought it illuminating that none of the journalist wanted to peruse the video question in Wengers recent news conference when he mentioned that it would stop referees from taking illegal payments. There silence spoke volumes.

  16. Leon and Rich,
    The video ref in Holland has intervened when the ref only gave a yellow when it should have been a red card. In Holland they want to make it a bi-directional way of working.

  17. Walter
    That’s how it should be if we are to believe in the transparency of the VAR.
    Not heard Wenger’s press conference yet, but it sounds great.

  18. Walter..

    I can just imagine Scott or Tierney telling Dean or Moss that they have made a mistake.

    They’ll be in the Conference before Dean can say “call the bookies”

  19. Great discussions everyone…..the referee can assign almost every responsibility to his assistants except for making the final call,if he or she trusts them.
    The mechanics of the VR are still being discussed and worked out. There will certainly be a component of managerial input to request a review of a major incident. Bilateral communication is absolutely necessary to make this process work.

  20. Arsene Wenger in his press conference was all for it, as he always has been, said it should have bee introduced years ago, and said specifically it would reduce the risk of corruption of referees. Good point well made, Arsene!

  21. Strange how TH14 had constant reminders of his handball, even though he admitted it immediately, & Maradona went on glorifying his handball & still does today.

    The Wenger interview has media demonstrating selective hearing!

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