English Premier League football clubs vote to keep VAR despite criticism

Semiautomated offside technology will be introduced next season to help save time in offside checks, league says.

VAR was introduced in the Premier League in 2019 with the aim of helping referees [File: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters]

English Premier League teams have voted in favour of keeping video assistant referees (VARs) despite a considerable amount of criticism this past season about the technology-aided officiating system.

Although the statement did not contain figures for the ballot, held at the Premier League’s annual general meeting on Thursday, the BBC reported that 19 of the division’s 20 clubs had voted to retain the technology.

The BBC said only Wolverhampton Wanderers, who last month called the vote to scrap the system, had backed the abolition of VAR.

The Midlands club had accused VAR of “undermining the value of the Premier League brand” after another season of several debatable decisions.

VAR was introduced in the Premier League in 2019 with the aim of helping referees avoid clear and obvious errors that had marred matches in the past.

But there were numerous controversies surrounding the technology during the recently concluded 2023-2024 campaign with Premier League managers and fans growing increasingly vocal in their disdain for the system.

After Thursday’s vote, however, the Premier League acknowledged improvements were required.

“While VAR produces more accurate decision making, it was agreed that improvements should be made for the benefit of the game and supporters,” the league said in a statement.

Semiautomated offside technology is set to be introduced next season in the hope this will reduce the length of time needed for offside checks while in-stadium announcements will be made when an on-field decision is changed after a VAR intervention to keep fans informed.

The Premier League added the “high threshold” for intervention would also be maintained.

Six key areas were identified during discussions with clubs:

  • Maintaining a high threshold for VAR.
  • Reducing delays to the game, primarily through the introduction of semiautomated offside technology (SAOT).
  • Improving fan experience through a reduction in delays and in-stadium announcements from referees to explain post-VAR decision changes.
  • More robust VAR training to improve consistency with an emphasis on speed while preserving accuracy.
  • More transparency and communication around VAR.
  • A fan and stakeholder VAR communication campaign to better clarify the technology’s role in the game.

The league confirmed in April that SAOT will be introduced in the autumn of 2024 to provide quicker and consistent placement of the virtual offside line based on optical player tracking.

The league and the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd said they will continue to lobby the International Football Association Board to permit greater flexibility to allow live video and audio broadcasts during VAR reviews.

Source: News Agencies