Wolves’ bid to scrap VAR fails as Premier League clubs vote to keep it

The introduction of Video Assistant Referee into football has split opinion right down the middle as purists argue it has broken the spirit of ecstasy that usually comes when goals are scored, while others think it takes too much time and needs improvement. 

VAR was introduced to the Premier League at the beginning of the 2019/20 season to help the on-field referees with key decisions.

Nevertheless, it has proved to be a consistent source of controversy with several high-profile gaffes and inconsistent decisions. In the 2023/24 season, Nottingham Forest made headlines with a strongly-worded statement criticising the officiating of their 2-0 defeat at Everton in April, the club alleged impartiality by accusing VAR official Stuart Atwell of supporting relegation rivals Luton.

Yet, the technology’s most controversial moment last season came in Tottenham’s 2-1 win against Liverpool when Luis Diaz’s goal was incorrectly ruled out for offside. The PGMOL released the audio from the VAR room that exposed the incompetence of the officials, which was described as a ‘significant human error’.

Tony Scholes, the Premier League’s chief football officer, claimed correct decisions had increased from 82 to 96% since VAR was being used in the top flight.

He told Sky Sports: “VAR is, and remains, a very effective tool in supporting the match officials on the pitch.”

However, Scholes admitted: “We are doing too many checks, we’re taking too long in doing them as well. It’s to a degree understandable given the level of scrutiny these guys are under.”

The clamour around VAR’s inconsistencies was a ticking timebomb and things came to a head when Wolves formally submitted a resolution to the Premier League in May, which triggered a vote on retaining the use of VAR.

The vote at the end-of-season Annual General Meeting (AGM) of top-flight clubs required 14 of the 20 Premier League teams to vote in favour for the motion to pass. However, Wolves were the only club to do so with the other 19 teams choosing to keep VAR in place for the 2024/25 campaign. Wolves tickets are on sale ahead of the new campaign in August.

Instead, they agreed to improve the system in several areas;

Semi-automated offside technology is set to be introduced in the autumn, which will reduce the length of time required for offside checks and provide quicker and consistent placement of the virtual offside line, based on optical player tracking, and produce high-quality broadcast graphics to ensure an enhanced in-stadium and broadcast experience for supporters.

In-stadium announcements will be made where an on-field decision is changed following a VAR intervention and the fan experience of VAR will also be improved by offering big-screen replays of all VAR interventions where possible.

The Premier League said the “high threshold” for intervention would be maintained and it would work with PGMOL on “more robust” training for officials to improve consistency, including an emphasis on speed while preserving accuracy.

Finally, the league said it will also continue to lobby the International Football Association Board (IFAB), which sets the laws of the game, to allow live video and audio broadcasts during VAR reviews.

A Premier League statement read: 

“Premier League clubs today voted in favour of continuing to operate VAR in the Premier League.  

“While VAR produces more accurate decision-making, it was agreed that improvements should be made for the benefit of the game and supporters.

“As part of thorough discussions at the Annual General Meeting, it was agreed that PGMOL, the Premier League and clubs all have important roles to play in improving the system and its reputation.

“As part of ongoing work to improve VAR, six key areas were focused on as part of discussions with clubs:

  1. Maintaining a high threshold for VAR intervention to deliver greater consistency and fewer interruptions to the flow of the game.
  2. Reducing delays to the game, primarily through the introduction of semi-automated offside technology (SAOT) and the maintained high threshold for VAR intervention.
  3. Improving fan experience through a reduction in the delays, in-stadium announcements from referees after a post-VAR change of decision and where possible, an enhanced offering of big screen replays to include all VAR interventions.
  4. Working with PGMOL on the implementation of more robust VAR training to improve consistency, including an emphasis on speed of process while preserving accuracy.
  5. Increasing transparency and communication around VAR – including expanded communications from Premier League Match Centre and through broadcast programming such as “Match Officials Mic’d Up”.
  6. The delivery of a fan and stakeholder VAR communication campaign, which will seek to further clarify VAR’s role in the game to participants and supporters.

“It was confirmed in April that Semi-Automated Offside Technology will be introduced in the autumn of 2024.

“The technology will provide quicker and consistent placement of the virtual offside line, based on optical player tracking, and will produce high-quality broadcast graphics to ensure an enhanced in-stadium and broadcast experience for supporters. 

“The Premier League and PGMOL will continue to lobby IFAB to allow greater flexibility in the Laws of the Game to allow live video and audio broadcast during VAR reviews.”

In another statement reacting to every other club voting down their motion, Wolves said: 

“While we are disappointed with the outcome of the vote on the future of VAR at today’s Annual General Meeting, we acknowledge and accept the decision made by our fellow Premier League clubs and we are reassured that the Premier League is taking the concerns of clubs and supporters seriously.

“We welcome the commitment to improve VAR, particularly in areas that address delays, consistency and fan experience. While we still believe that Premier League football would be superior without VAR, we think that these improvements are crucial for the integrity of the game and for enhancing the overall matchday experience for our supporters.

“Wolves remain committed to working closely with the Premier League and PGMOL to ensure that VAR continues to evolve and better serve the interests of football. We appreciate the efforts being made to address the issues that have been highlighted and look forward to seeing these positive changes implemented.”

The backlash from clubs is understandable and it is a good sign that more ways to make the system better are already taking place. The Premier League’s latest adjustments are certainly a positive step and the inconsistencies of VAR can finally be eliminated.

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