'VAR getting us more right decisions but fan experience can improve'

10 Feb 2024
Premier League - West Ham United v AFC Bournemouth

Premier League’s Chief Football Officer Tony Scholes says that VAR is helping, but the in-stadium experience and time for decisions can improve

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Data shows that the Video Assistant Referees (VAR) are helping match officials get more of the big decisions right but there are still areas of improvement for fans, the League’s Chief Football Officer has acknowledged.  

Tony Scholes has said that thanks to VAR, decisions made by match officials have improved significantly, providing them with an effective and supportive tool.  

“Before VAR 82 per cent of the decisions made [by referees] were deemed to be correct,” Scholes said. “In the season so far, that figure is 96 per cent.”  

Tony Scholes
Premier League Chief Football Officer Tony Scholes

These numbers were determined by the Key Match Incident (KMI) panel introduced last season, and made up by former players and coaches to bring a level of insight, transparency and  independence. 

“VAR so far this season has intervened correctly on 57 occasions,” Scholes added. “Twenty-four of those where VAR has intervened on a factually incorrect mistake on the pitch.”  

The KMI panel also found two occasions where the VAR intervened incorrectly, overturning a penalty awarded to Arsenal at home to Manchester United in September, and when it disallowed Lyle Foster’s late goal in Burnley’s 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest.

There was also the “factual” mistake made, which was the “significant human error” where a Luis Diaz goal for Liverpool was wrongly ruled out for offside against Tottenham Hotspur by VAR

 "The beauty of the independent panel means that we can do some kind of quantitative measuring of the accuracy of their decision-making,” said Scholes. “The panel's results would suggest that match officiating in the Premier League is at least as good, if not better than it's ever been." 

But Scholes identified two areas of VAR that needed improvement: the in-stadium experience for fans and the time taken for VAR decisions. 

"We know we have got work to do"

“Clearly everything in the world of VAR is not perfect,” Scholes said. “We’re aware of that and we know we have got work to do.  

“Where the VAR experience is poor is the in-stadium experience for the supporter. It’s nowhere near good enough. We know it’s not. It affects supporters’ enjoyment of the game, and we know it needs to change.” 

VAR check

In how to improve things, Scholes says the League is restricted by the decision by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), which determines the laws of the game, in preventing the publication of the audio of the conversations between referees and VARs in stadiums and to viewers. 

“We are constrained in what we can do by IFAB, [which] is very clear at the moment we cannot use the audio,” Scholes said. “My personal view is that we’ll get to a point where both the video and the audio is played live and then played afterwards to explain the decision. How far away from that we are, I don’t know.

"One development that we are expecting to come in imminently is that the referee will announce their decision, post-VAR review, to the crowd.

"My personal view is we're on a journey and that will come and we'll get to a point where both the video and the audio is played live and then played afterwards to explain the decision."

One area where improvement can be achieved more quickly is in reducing the number of VAR interventions and the time spent on them. 

"We're doing too many [VAR] checks and we're taking too long in doing them,” Scholes said. “To a degree it's understandable given the level of scrutiny these guys are under, from ourselves, also from [the media] as well as from supporters. 

"But the reviews are taking too long and it's affecting the flow of the game. We're extremely aware of that and the need to improve their speed, whilst always maintaining the accuracy."

Semi-automated offsides

On whether the Premier League would introduce semi-automated offsides as has taken place in FIFA and UEFA competitions, Scholes said that testing for this was going on, but would not put a timeline on its introduction, citing issues with the system.

"We don't believe it will improve the accuracy of decision-making," he said. "What it will do is speed up the time of decision-making. It's extremely important in that regard.

"We are testing a couple of systems at the moment and we hope to be going to clubs for a decision later in the year. But that's not a definite at the moment.

“It’s what we call the ‘edge cases’, where many things are occurring at once. You might have a lot of bodies in one place and it is the ability of the system to identify different parts of the body [that is of concern].

“For the vast majority of cases there won’t be an issue but in our competition we want to be clear that we are not introducing something that will give us problems in other areas.”

'Calendar getting more difficult'

Scholes also expressed his concern on how changes in the football calendar, with the introduction next season of a new expanded format of the UEFA Champions League that will bring more matches, will have an impact on player welfare. 

“The football calendar is a very hot topic,” he said. “We are mindful as to the way in which the calendar is getting more and more difficult because of other competitions expanding their competitions.

“We are doing what we can, but we are very supportive of the position that the PFA [Professional Footballers’ Association] and the LMA [League Managers Association] are taking from a player-welfare perspective to make sure that all competitions, all authorities are aware of the impact of expanding the calendar on player welfare and player load.”

Scholes also revealed that by matches this season had increased in length by an average of 3min 31sec to an average of 101min 41 seconds as a result of referees applying more accurate additional time.  The amount of time that the ball had been in play this season had also gone up by 3min 31sec to an average of 58min 28sec.

As well as the record pace of 730 goals scored so far, at a record rate of 3.2 goals per match, there have been 43 more goals in added time this season compared with at this stage of 2022/23, to a total of 92. 

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