After being one of the first leagues in world football to adopt the VAR system, the A-League has now invested A$150,000 in the Hawkeye technology being used in the English Premier League.
In Australia, the two most recent top flight domestic grand finals have featured VAR errors. Both clearly impacted the contest. Its interference has also continued to heighten the mood of distrust around the system and bred calls for a simplification of its processes or its removal all together.
The Premier League has been using the new technology this season, much to the chagrin of many fans and expert commentators alike. Aside from decisions on foul play, it also uses a computerised 3D line, determining offsides based not only on centimetres and metres, but also on the tiniest of margins.
At times the width of a players arm can be the difference between a play on decision or an infringement being called. Such has been the case in the richest league in the world this season, with a host of decisions made after a referral to the VAR that have infuriated fans and drawn criticism from some of the most respected pundits.
Despite Australian football’s constant financial challenges, the A-League powers at be have chosen to invest in the system. It hopes to avoid the errors that have plagued recent grand finals.
In 2017/18, Melbourne Victory were awarded a match winning goal in the first half against the Newcastle Jets. There was a clear offside in the play yet a faulty monitor and a required reboot saw the officials in the booth unable to view the vision that would have made things right for the unlucky Jets.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for Newcastle, yet luckily the error that occurred in the following seasons’ grand final was less disastrous. Sydney FC had a goal disallowed unfairly, however, after 120 minutes of grinding and stubborn action, did manage to prevail over Perth Glory on penalties.
Whilst the official word coming from the league will be that the investment they have made in the Hawkeye technology will remove such errors and ensure that we do not see a repeat of the embarrassing disasters of the past two seasons, many fans in England would disagree.
After just a month of the Premier League season, former whistle blower Mike Riley and Head of Referees, admitted that VAR had already been responsible for four major errors. Whilst three involved penalty decisions, he also made it clear that Newcastle United had been awarded a goal despite the technology confirming an offside player.
Liverpool’s Egyptian striker Mohamed Salah summed up much of the existing fan sentiment around the obviously flawed technology and the unrealistic ambitions of administrators to eliminate all errors from officialdom.
“I don’t like it … that’s my answer, always. I don’t like it,” Salah claimed in an interview with CNN. “I love football how it is.
Whilst English fans are grappling with VAR’s application to penalties, foul play and the new interpretations around handball incidents, Australian fans are already well versed in the frustrations caused in those areas.
The considerable financial investment made by Australia’s domestic governing body will now add the most finicky level of analysis to offside decisions. A three dimensional dotted red line joining an attacker’s shoulder with his exact position on the pitch is compared with a blue line indicating the precise placement of the defender.
Those two points then become extended lines draw horizontally across the pitch and the player in the highest or most advanced position is judged to be the last man; potentially on offside attacker or a defender playing a goal scorer onside.
The graphics look somewhat absurdly imprecise when used and many decisions appear within a reasonable margin of effort. One that should exist in all predictive technology.
However, Australian football claims to have invested in the future, in order to protect fans and the integrity of the game by ensuring there is a categorical decision made each and every time on the technological evidence available.
It is considerable money spent on something that remains unconvincing. Many would argue that they were happy with the game the way it was, well before we had even heard of the acronym VAR.