VAR is strangling the life out of the beautiful game

17 March 2019 - 00:00 By The Daily Telegraph

The sub-Alpine tranquillity of Bavaria is an unlikely crucible for radical protest, but the white heat of dissent emanated from a section of Bayern Munich's fans at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday night.
"Modern football kills emotion. F*** VAR. F*** Uefa," read their highly visible banner, in an area of the stadium where Bayern's hardcore stayed to chant and drum through a lifeless Champions League exit to Liverpool.
The video assistant referee (VAR) system has had no shortage of critics during its short life, but even their objections tend to be dry and technocratic, focusing on the system's implementation and methodology.
The assumed premise is that VAR is a noble idea, but we are yet to work out how to stitch it through the game without snags.
As Bayern's banner implies, however, the VAR debate is actually an emotional and philosophical one: is it worth disrupting the unscripted chaos of a football match for the sake of greater accuracy and fairness?
Some say yes, some no, and it is difficult to see how the outlooks can be reconciled.
Football is about feeling as well as thinking, and no feeling can match the unbridled elation of your team scoring. To risk diluting the inflamed passions of those few seconds is a dangerous gamble, at a time when football is competing with myriad cheaper entertainment forms for attention.
Ajax fans were made to wait four minutes for Dusan Tadic's killer third goal against Real Madrid to be given. No doubt they savoured the rest of their evening in the Spanish capital, but the interval was the most untimely of mood-killers - and all to check if the ball had run out of play several passes earlier in the attack. After several slow-motion replays, we were still no wiser.
Defenders of VAR point to the success of technology's intervention in tennis, cricket and rugby, but football's low-scoring nature makes these moments of celebration more precious. Nothing feels quite as decisive and significant as the net bulging, and it would be a sad day when fans reflexively hesitate in fear of a subsequent review.
Those sports also have natural stoppages, and even at their most contentious the decisions in question are almost always objective: was the ball the right side of the line or was a player's foot in touch?
VAR, however, is an attempt to contrive objective standards of decision-making in a sport governed by subjective laws. There will never be unanimous agreement on what constitutes making your body "unnaturally bigger" in cases of handball, or "excessive force" in the case of straight red cards.
The high-minded language of equity and justice tends to be summoned at this point, as we are told it is so important to get the big decisions right. But without diving headlong into an existential wormhole - is it really that important? This is sport, not The Hague.
There is something both dystopian and Utopian about the whole enterprise, with its promise to perfect that which cannot be perfected. The history of the game is littered with happenstance, injustices and undeserved outcomes, all part of football's rich tapestry.
If close offside decisions keep you awake at night, take medical advice, and perhaps the authorities should reflect on what made football so popular in the first place, rather than strangling the life out of the golden goose they are entrusted to protect.

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