Subjectivity of offside ruling leaves VAR in more trouble

It’s not the first time this season that VAR (Video Assistant Referees) has been in the limelight after a weekend of thrilling footballing action, and unfortunately it’s once again dominated discussion. It’s sad to see that in a weekend where English prodigy James Maddison gave hope to the nation with a midfield masterclass, where Arsenal pulled off one of the finest comebacks of the season, where Man City hit eight goals in one game (five in 18 minutes) and where Liverpool matched their own league winning record, there is still only one thing the media can all talk about.

On Saturday, Tottenham Hotspur were denied a goal by Serge Aurier via the slightest of margins as Heung-Min Son pulled off into an offside position, just. The decision was given as the VAR referee at Stockley Park had to decide where he believed the ball was passed and then where Son’s shoulder looked to start in relation to the defender’s leg.

This method of measuring the incident has led to a huge storm of opinions on social media, from fans, pundits, journalists, and it still seems unclear what the best implementation of VAR and the offside rule is. Instead of learning from these early incidents, they seem to be getting worse. Some have called for VAR to be simply trusted to make the decision, whether it’s somewhat subjective or not, whereas others say the ‘clear and obvious’ rule has to apply here as well, which would therefore not deny Serge Aurier and Tottenham the goal, as Son wasn’t clearly enough offside.

Here’s what the experts have had to say about it:

Editor-in-Chief of Football FanCast, Christy Malyan, gave us his views on the controversial incident at the King Power Stadium: “The problem is the rules and the way they are written rather than VAR itself. So in the rules offside is being made to be a very black and white thing, but we all know that in practice, for however long, linesmen have basically, if it’s too close to call, will essentially say it’s onside.

“So now we’ve brought in technology that can make it black and white, which means we’re enforcing rules to the way they’re actually written and that is upsetting a lot of people. But the problem isn’t VAR or how it’s being used, it’s actually the disparity between the rules and what’s actually been going on in practice for pretty much the history of the offside rule.”

Christy makes a fascinating point there, but then one could argue, how far offside does one have to be? Maybe the ‘clear and obvious’ rule should be applied here.

Quite frankly, the offside decisions are somewhat subjective, because decisions have to be made about incidents that are difficult to prove scientifically. Gary Neville argues that this is equal and consistent for all, but that may not be the case as a different person is monitoring VAR every time and may interpret things differently.

Is there a way technology could play a further part in helping? Perhaps lazor’s across a field, or a sensor in the ball that picks up when a pass was made? The reality is that the technology currently in place is being too often undermined by people who aren’t impressed with its application.

VAR isn’t the problem. It will be the problem when a camera doesn’t work, or when it can’t deliver the angle needed to judge a situation, but until then it’s giving us all the information we need, we just need to know how to use it better and judge decisions more realistically. We also need to decide what we want football to be. High scoring and fun, or slow, staggered but precise?

Perhaps there should be a time-limit for VAR, where if someone can’t be judged to be offside in less than 60 seconds then the error clearly wasn’t obvious enough to be over-ruled, and clubs are given the benefit of the doubt? We’ve even put forward the argument for a ‘challenge system’ that you can read here.

Something needs to change: either the technology improves, or how we use it does, because right now, the sport and analysis to come out of it is all being ruined by something that’s meant to only help our game.

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