Why is VAR being criticised so thoroughly, but the lack of FA refs not being mentioned?

By Tony Attwood

Of course the workings of journalists is a law unto itself.  But consider this.  If VAR is used four times in a match and accurately corrects the referee twice, then it means the accuracy of refereeing the game has gone up.

But that isn’t good enough for some people, who seem to be saying that if VAR isn’t right every time it should not be used.

Unfortunately this notion is based on a complete misunderstanding of VAR and why it is necessary: a misunderstanding that the media in the UK seem very keen indeed to extend.

The fact is that as everyone who studies the workings of the brain will tell you, the brain doesn’t have in place mechanisms to help it generate the exact timings of events, simply because in terms of our survival, we don’t need that.  The brain tells us that we feel pain after we put our hand too close to a fire, and from this we learn that fire comes first and the pain second.  In short, what the brain can do is determined by what it has historically needed to do.

Because of this lack of split second facility, referees and assistants can easily make mistakes.  In fact in an analysis of the 2002 World Cup by Werner Helsen of KUL university in Belgium, one in four offside decisions was incorrect.

“No referee can get rid of this sort of error, except by teaching referees that their initial perception might be wrong because of this effect called “flash tag” by psychologists.  As a result of this training after the Japan world cup, the number of off side errors fell by half for the next world cup.”

That quote comes from New Scientist which also points out that following the introduction of VAR a study by the International Football Association Board it was found that VAR prevented “game-changing errors” in about 9% of matches.  Further, the overall accuracy of refereeing decision making rose from 93% to 98.8%.  (They don’t say but I think that relates to all decisions, not important decisions only).

However both the referees watching the VAR boxes and the referees and assistants on the pitch still have to make a value judgement about intent, which is written into the rules of the game, and that is a problem that TV pundits seem to be having difficulty in understanding.   Fifa doesn’t employ telepaths.

And there’s another issue.  Because the brain is not naturally geared up to understand something in slow-motion (slow-motion film often looks funny to us because it is not something the brain is set to see as natural or normal) these incidents are often misunderstood, especially by pundits who have neither referee training nor any form of support from psychologists who could tell them when their brains are feeding them false information.

However what is happening in football is that VAR officials are given instructions on when to use VAR slow motion and when to use real time, so that the automatic processes in the brain don’t over ride their perception of what is happening.

As Bob Holmes, a consultant for New Scientist, working in Canada, pointed out recently in New Scientist magazine, citing the work of Henning Plessner, a pscyychologist at the University of Jeidelberg, “Slow motion changes the way we perceive incidents.   It looks as if the player has more time to decide what he does, so it always looks worse.” In short, slow motion magnifies intent.

Thus slow motion is good to check to see if a foul is inside or outside the box, but to examine the intent of a foul or tackled, real time has to be used.

There are thus good reasons therefore for VAR to be introduced – because the brain is not designed to see certain high speed events exactly, and because it is easy for a ref to be unable to see events exactly, or simply be mistaken.

But there is more, for earlier research in 2001 showed that referees are more likely to favour the home team where there are high levels of crowd noise, but are less likely to give a second penalty to a side than they should do, based on evidence alone.  Players’ shouts of pain also have an ability to influence referees.

Clearly from this referees need all the help they can get.  It won’t make them perfect, but it can and will reduce errors significantly, in many different ways.

But the so-called experts on radio, TV and in the press, are generally against VAR, although as we can see in the discussion panels on the World Cup they are 100% ignorant of the various factors that scientific research has revealed about the way the brain works, the influences on the referees and so on.

Meanwhile PGMO also came out against VAR for next season even though a lot of other leagues in Europe now use it.  Why is that?

PGMO as we know is the ultra-secret body that runs refereeing so they are not going to tell us about their decision making, but I think there is a clue in the IFAB report above which said the overall accuracy of refereeing decision making rose with VAR from 93% to 98.8%.

On this issue alone PGMO has a problem having previously claimed an accuracy level of 98.5% and then making a claim that VAR would increase this by 2% thus making the Premier League the first league in the world to have an accuracy level of over 100%.

This statistical nonsense could be a cause of their reticence, but there are other possible reasons, not least the possibility that PGMO knows that the actual figures are way below that which it claims, that some of its members are incompetent, or that some of them are taking bribes.

Now of course that last claim is not one that I make – I merely place it as a possibility.   But what bemuses me is that when there is talk around of this possibility, why not show that it is not true by having VAR at every game.  For surely VAR ought to be enough to show that matches are not fixed through the adoption of Type III match fixing that we have oft discussed here.

The refusal of PGMO to bring in VAR proves nothing, but it is a strange PR move given that PGMO is known as the organisation that employs far fewer referees than other leagues of a similar size, and also has a very poor geographic spread of officials across the country.

Fortunately for PGMO the broadcasters and holders of the rights to publish fixtures support PGMO 100% and never question anything the organisation does.   Well, almost never.  The Telegraph did once, but then didn’t follow up on the topic, which was a shame.

Which is why Untold bangs on and on about it.  We don’t offer proof, just some very strange findings, like our 160 game analysis, and odd coincidences of fewer referees, a resistance to VAR, no PL referees at the World Cup, etc etc.

Matters that can be explained as coincidences prove nothing, but multiple coincidences do give a clue as to where we might look to see if something is amiss.



17 Replies to “Why is VAR being criticised so thoroughly, but the lack of FA refs not being mentioned?”

  1. Excellent article Tony. I never claimed VAR would be 100% perfect. The ones that claim almost 100% perfect are the PGMO. 😉
    The way VAR is used now is also not perfect in my eyes. But Rome wasn’t build in one day as the idiom goes so I can accept that VAR will need some time to get better.

    I think VAR could clean up some of the nasty fouling. I saw a penalty given for a defender holding an attacker with both arms in real time by the ref. But since then I have seen other teams (in the Serbia match I think) where the ref did nothing in real time and the VAR also did nothing. That is something I would hope that VAR will be given more freedom in punishing those situations.

    But now FIFA has only allowed VAR some very specific moments where it can intervene. One step at the time is the way forward.

  2. VAR will come into it’s own when teams are allowed challenges, much like in tennis where the player can challenge a linesman or umpire for a wrong call.

  3. 1) When teams are allowed challenges – absolutely agree.
    2) When teams are allowed a certain number of challenges per half.
    3) When a body of video evidence has been archived and made available for each referee, each manager, each club team representative, to be continuously studied.

    The battle for football will be to overturn the role of the referee. From the most important person on the pitch, the referee has to be turned into the facilitator, in service for the players to make the game paramount.

    Will the PGMO accept that?

  4. Also on this particular subject. I do not believe in coincidnce, it’s the co-operative, icyrrence of incidents. Nothing happens by chance, not even the rolling of D&D die.

    Collectively this is circumstancial, and the burden is to be sure, so to disprove reasonable doubt as deluded conjecture.

  5. It would appear that Marca believes that any article about VAR must have a headline that casts doubt on VAR. But inside the article (on the Sweden Korea game), it appears to me that VAR was correct.

  6. In my view if the announcement that Arsene was leaving at the end of the season was made first I think it possible that the Pigmol would have accepted their version of VAR, (what ever that might prove to be.) for this coming season.

    If we had VAR this coming season would Arsene still be manager?

    As usual what is not said is usually more important than what is not said.

    As mentioned here the one part of English football that is not discussed with any detail by the bubble gum pundits is the PGMOL and its workings with the FA.

  7. OT
    Time was having written all I needed to do was to hit ‘Post’ Now I have to complete the details boxes. Not a problem – this is not a complaint.

    My phone holds the details and all I have to do hit ‘post’ and the message is on its way.

    I am curious as to how this has come about.

  8. I did post before a long while ago regarding referees and crowd noise , in 1988 I was doing a FA Preliminary Coaching course and part of it was a lecture by a qualified referee on the laws/rules of football
    At that time the referees carried out an experiment with 40 referees watching games on TV and having to referee them , they all watched the same games but 20 were in silence and 20 with crowd noise .
    The referees who had the crowd noise were influenced by it and made more wrong decisions than those who made there decisions in silence .
    I wonder if our crowd at the Em’s were a lot more vocal in there support how much it could influence a lot of strange decisions we have given against us

  9. How many times can one say the emirates crowd is pathetics, a bunch of apatheti, social exclusionists, who want trophies any old how and negatively impacted the team, club, manager, and true fans witht their nonses.

    It may as well be silent, like seriously you can here, the players calls in the mics half the time.

    And the rest are aged, bring back the Vuvuzaela!

    yeah the re eintering detais ia long and only affects desktop!


  10. So Belgium are basicall through, I can’t see them dropping points to Panama, we could be in trouble after tonight.

    Seriouslty, I’m a neutral for this Arsenal free Englad! Let them have it…. but not quite yet, something like Juventus, Liverpool, United this season!

  11. Great article Tony. I just wish we’d see something like this in a credible newspaper (if such a thing exists!

  12. Great article Tony. I just wish we’d see something like this in a credible newspaper (if such a thing exists!)

  13. Thanks Tony!

    It is remarkable that for nearly twenty years the pgMOB have not been able to find a ref good enough at what they themselves define as “game management” from the largest city in the continent and one of the most densely populated regions, which also houses the most registered clubs, registered players and yep you guessed it amateur and aspiring refs in the country.

    However looks like FUFA have found a half decent collection, with the aid of VARs in a manner used in every other sport these past thirty years.

    The use of the word professional when referring to the pgMOB is an insult to the English language.

    Is the pgMOB an insult to English Football? And to English football fans (please refer to the totttenham player falling and flopping about last night with hilarious regularity and barely any reward for his “skills”)

  14. Manure,Chelsea and the tiny totts were all heavily against VAR being used in the Premiership.I wonder why?

  15. Late to the party…

    Before I get to VAR, one important thing for me (which I’ve rarely seen mentioned anywhere) is the officials are mic’d so why are the
    communication channels between the refs, the assistants and VAR people (or whatever their official titles are) not open and accessible to anybody? Shouldn’t they/it be? After all, the officials have been mic’d for years – before VAR was even a ‘thing’.


    The FA has missed many chances to use microphones for disciplinary action, and presumably the police didn’t get any help when investigating Terry and Suarez for racist language.

    I have so little faith in officiating as it is (sheer incompetence), biased refs, match fixing, etc that I don’t think VAR should exist without it otherwise it’s another system they can use to reinforce the norms now.

    I know it’s not a stated goal of VAR, but isn’t transparency inherently part of solution in trying to get more decisions correct? The on pitch ref doesn’t magically know they’ve missed something, or there’s been an error, to then go consult the pitch side monitor. He/She has to be made aware, told via something (being facetious here), so why not make this part of the process open? Going in the opposite direction for a moment, if a decision is not reviewed, i.e. deemed correctly called in the first instance (and not reviewed) then at least there’s some explanation as to why, e.g. the ref has communicated why they’ve felt they’ve seen an incident clear enough to not warrant further attention. Outside of realtime use during a match, a recorded and open mic system like this can be used for review and training purposes to help officials be better at their (proper) job of enforcing the (proper) laws of the game. They could also use this as a running commentary like real times notes in place of the post match (written) report (which is written from memory so probably inaccurate, even made up in places).

    There are various other sports, like rugby, NFL, where the refs microphones are open so why not in football?


    I think there’s still elements of corruption that the powers that be still want to facilitate, so they want to keep some things secretive and not open to proper over sight.

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