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Keith Hackett on VAR: PGMOL must do more to educate referees on clear and obvious errors

Every single game will feature a decision from a referee which the fans won’t like and they probably won’t agree with, but there’s a monumental difference between a judgement call going against you and the ref making a clear and obvious error.

The issue has been brought to light again after the Technical Director of IFAB David Elleray expressed concerns about how VAR was operated in the Premier League, while he highlighted the same issue that has concerned me since VAR was introduced around the world.

I am deeply concerned that VAR is intervening in too many decisions where there isn’t a clear and obvious error – something that Elleray described as a decision where almost everyone would agree that the wrong outcome has been reached.

It’s led to a worrying situation where referees are simply relying on VAR to make their decisions for them, so they lose their sharpness and awareness in their own decision process.

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VAR isn’t there to referee the game, it’s a tool to ensure that errors are immediately overturned and to make the game as fair as possible, so PGMOL needs to take action now.

We saw the perfect example between Wolves and Liverpool last weekend when Craig Pawson was perfectly positioned to make the call, and he judged that Conor Coady was fouled in the box and awarded a penalty kick to Wolves.

VAR intervened and Pawson could quickly see that there was zero contact when he reviewed the incident so he overturned the call. The problem is that I can only assume that the offence was a figment of his imagination – a referee must never guess!

On one hand we can be thankful that the correct outcome was achieved, but it’s a classic example of a referee losing focus and relying on VAR to bail him out on a bad decision.

Unfortunately there was yet another example in the game between West Brom against Crystal Palace where Matheus Pereira was eventually sent off after another VAR review where there was no clear and obvious error.

Pereira straightened his legs when he was on the ground and made contact with the Palace player so Paul Tierney awarded the yellow card for reckless play.

VAR stepped in and advised him to review the incident which resulted in the red card, but there was no clear and obvious error in his original decision so there was no reason for VAR to intervene on this occasion.

To date there has only been one referee who has reviewed an incident on the pitch-side monitor and stuck with the original decision, so there’s an expectation that the decision will be changed every time VAR recommends the review.

In many ways it’s actually quite simple to determine if there is a clear and obvious error. If you review the footage and can see why the referee reached their decision then there’s no clear and obvious error. Similarly if you change your mind depending on the camera angle, then there’s no clear and obvious error either.

Referees are paid to make difficult decisions so obviously there will be tight calls that could go either way, but these aren’t the decisions that VAR is designed to review.

PGMOL need to review their operations and how VAR is deployed in the Premier League. This can include going through workshops with the match officials to re-visit the criteria to get them working more efficiently, but they simply must do something to improve what we are seeing on the field.

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