I have always been an advocate for the effective use of technology in sport. If you can afford it, then why not use it? So I am happy that the majority of the major sports use technology to the advantage of players and eliminate as many human errors by the officials as possible.
In tennis, at all grand slam tournaments, the players are allowed three challenges per set and it extends to the tie break where they are allowed an additional challenge. The players lose a challenge if they are incorrect. Most times, it is quite simple as the challenge is made to determine if the ball was in or out. A definitive answer is always provided.
In cricket, the Decision Review System (DRS) is used not only for LBW decisions but faint edges as well. A batsman may edge a ball and the umpire may not see the deviation and Hot Spot (an infrared imaging software), is used to determine if there is a white mark on the bat which indicates that the ball struck some part of the bat. In other cases, umpires go to the DRS for low catches to determine if a fieldsman took a dipping catch before the ball touches the grass, run-outs, stumpings, bat and pad catches, catches off the glove and bump ball catches. DRS is also used to determine if a bowler bowled a no-ball, especially if a batsman is out and kudos to them because they give the benefit of the doubt initially to the bowler. However, if a batsman is dismissed, it is only fair that they double-check to see if they made the correct decision. My concern with the DRS is the LBW decision with the ball striking the outside of the leg and off stumps, or if it is hitting the top of the bails, then this is deemed to be the umpire’s call.
In my view, the ball is either hitting the stumps or it is not. If the ball is hitting whatever part of the stumps, then the batsman should be given out. The way it is adjudicated now is if the ball is clipping part of the stumps, and the umpire gives the batsman out, he is out. But if that same ball was clipping the stumps and the umpire says not out, then the batsman is not out; this is where the decision is left to the on-field umpire. It’s really whether or not the luck is with the batsman. My assessment is simple - if the ball is hitting or clipping the stumps, whatever decision the umpire makes, the technology should be utilised to make the final and correct decision.
In football, we have the infamous Video Assistant Referee (VAR). Goal-Line Technology (GLT) was also introduced a few years ago and it was indeed a masterstroke. Footballs that appeared to cross the goal line were mere millimetres from crossing, and balls that appeared not to cross did go over the line. GLT has worked wonderfully well as again, it provided a definitive answer; this time on whether 100% of the ball crossed the goal line to award a goal. I thought VAR worked reasonably well at the 2018 World Cup. It has been introduced to many of the European leagues and although there have been a few incidents, most of the leagues have appeared to come to terms with how the system is to be used.
However, in the UK, the Premier League is in total disarray with VAR. Under the changes to the laws of the game (2019), a handball by an attacker in the build-up to a goal, even if accidental, will result in the goal being disallowed and a freekick awarded to the defending team. While I disagree with this change, as sometimes it is entirely accidental (ball to hand vs hand to the ball), the application of VAR here is appropriate. Offside also seems to be straightforward although in some cases, the decision appears to be extremely harsh. As one commentator put it, “his big toe looked offside”. That may appear tough but if the technology has
assisted in making the right decision then so be it. Offside decisions are easily measured and they get it right, again, with a definitive decision.
The problem with the UK seems to be that VAR does not go against the on-field referee apart from conclusive incidents ie offside, a handball by an attacker etc. But let’s be frank - the VAR is there to assist the referee and although the on-field referee makes a decision, he/she can make a mistake and so it is beyond me why the VAR should not point it out to them. If a player goes down from a tackle and from that tackle results in a goal, from the same phase of play, why shouldn’t the VAR say to the referee that perhaps a foul has been committed and then recommend an on-field review of the decision, by the referee, with the aid of the touchline monitor? What transpires is the VAR will ‘check’ every goal, penalty decision and red card and unless there is a ‘clear and obvious error’, the decision of the referee remains. But what is a clear and obvious error? A foul is a foul and if contact is made unfairly by an opponent on an attacker, then the error in judgment by the referee must be overturned with the use of the technology, especially if it results in a goal. It’s been 10 weeks since the Premier League season began and a referee has not used the touchline monitor once to review a decision. Seems like a complete waste.
I am certain the VAR controversy, especially in the Premier League, will continue straight to the end of the season. Let us hope that someone reviews all the games so far and at least tries to get VAR right. The head of Premier League referees has been quoted as saying that, “the VAR system is not perfect” alluding to it being a work in progress. But if the system is not perfect, why are we using it at all?
Editor’s note: The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not reflect the views of any organisation of which he is a stakeholder.