A March 2018 survey of 2,000 UK football fans found that a whopping 83 per cent of fans see VAR as a means to ‘level the playing field’ between the Premier League’s frontrunners and the rest of the top flight.
The poll, commissioned by Compare.bet, found that the majority of supporters believe the stature of a club plays a part in match-changing decisions, with 6 in 10 fans in agreement that referees typically give more favourable decisions to the ‘bigger’ clubs in the Premier League. Unsurprisingly, when asked which of the current Premier League teams have benefited most from these calls, 30 per cent of the respondents chose Manchester United.
While officials do their utmost to remain impartial, the FA’s Fair Play table support fans’ claims, with the disciplinary records of bottom half clubs West Ham, Huddersfield Town and West Bromwich Albion ranking amongst the four worst in the league. Between them, the three clubs have accumulated 173 cautions and six dismissals. In comparison, the league’s top three clubs --Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool-- have seen just 137 yellow cards and four red cards in the 2017/18 Premier League season so far.
A single refereeing decision can often have a huge bearing on the outcome of a result, and in some instances, a whole season. Fans are well aware of the pressures that Premier League match officials face on a weekly basis, with just 5 per cent believing that referees have an easy job without the aid of VAR, citing player protests as a factor in influencing refereeing decisions.
In fact, 57 per cent of fans think protests from players can influence referees to overturn their decisions during a game. Making a key match decision at the expense of a particular team can understandably result in a furious response from players, who often surround referees in an attempt to influence their final decision. 8 in 10 believe that widespread adoption of VAR would completely eliminate the impact players have on key match decisions. The IFAB has already taken steps to relieve the ill effects of player pressure, stating that “a player who uses the ‘review signal’ will be cautioned.”
It’s clear that fans believe wider use of VAR could change the game for the better, with violent conduct and diving top of supporters’ VAR wishlist. According to the International Football Association Board, the VAR experiment has seen the use of video technology limited to four categories of match-changing incidents: goals, penalty decisions, direct red cards and mistaken identity. However, 41 per cent agree that VAR should be used to tackle simulation and violent conduct due to their negative influence on the game.
While there is clearly room for improvement before the IFAB make a final decision about VAR, the majority of fans are already on board. Despite largely negative coverage of VAR in British media, 7 in 10 supporters are actually in agreement that Video Assistant Referees will have a positive impact on the sport.
“VAR is one of the most divisive aspects of the modern game. Despite all the media debate, the underlying feeling amongst UK football fans is positive. They understand the pressures and difficulties of the modern game and are open to using technology to support referees,” said a spokesperson for Compare.bet.
The study, conducted via OnePoll.com, also found 76 per cent of fans believe the history of football would have been very different if VAR had been in place. In fact, the top football moment supporters would like to go back and use VAR on was revealed to be Maradona’s famous ‘Hand of God’ goal against England at the 1986 World Cup. This was followed by Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal for England against Germany in the 2010 World Cup, and Thierry Henry’s handball against Ireland to shatter their 2010 World Cup qualifying dreams.
When asked about the use of video refereeing in other sports, respondents cited Rugby as the best example, followed by Tennis and Cricket.
A spokesperson for Compare.bet added, “With FIFA’s recent approval of VAR for use during World Cup 2018, it’s now more crucial than ever to get fans on side and ensure VAR doesn’t detract from the spectacle of the tournament.”