Another shambolic week for video technology in football, now ruining games from Fulham to France. This is the age of re-litigated super slow-mo, excruciating consultations with rulebooks and disagreements between the world’s most tedious people.
We were all on board with goal-line technology. GLT had jaunty initials like a good sandwich or bad disc jockey. But from early signs of promise at the 2018 World Cup, Var has become about as useful to football as Jar Jar Binks was to Obi-Wan Kenobi. It is Var Var Binks. Burn it all down.
But first, let us assess which sports use technology more successfully. For the purpose of this exercise we are only considering tech which involves cameras and can make a difference to sport while it is taking place. So photo finishes in racing, timing touchpads in swimming and chess players clicking those little clocks, while all fine examples of technology, are disqualified.
Given the clear branding benefits of a nifty set of initials, we should settle on some which summarise each sport’s tech and its ability to irritate. Video Assistant Referee’s Very Annoying Rating, or VARVAR for short. The higher the score, the more infuriating the tech.
The magnificence of football, the overriding point of it, the one thing which wins it the argument about the world’s best sport, is the joy of a goal. Var has vandalised this so that fans are now second-guessing their emotions, possibly forever. It introduces logic and process to moments which should be pure feeling. Invasive, disruptive and, least forgivably, still frequently wrong.
A TV acquaintance who specialised in gameshows once told me that you always knew when a new format would not work if it took longer than a minute to explain the rules. Modern rugby would require a six-hour seminar before every game and be cancelled after its pilot. Tech only confuses matters further, so rugby is the best example of the folly of using video to interpret subjective rules. Not helped by the grey area around whether you still need to address the TMO as “sir”.
So, you like video replays? Well have ALL OF THE VIDEO REPLAYS IN THE WORLD. We’ve put a camera inside the little foam bit on the corner of the endzone! We’ll show you what you thought was a catch from 27 different angles until you are not sure you’re even watching a sport any more! We’ll make Bill Belichick throw a silly little flag if he wants to protest something! Everything is reviewable, of course, except for after the two-minute warning, when nothing is reviewable because everything is automatically reviewed. Got that? A ridiculous state of affairs for a ridiculous sport.
Car Var is fitting in a sport that is already 95 per cent tech. Yes Max Verstappen can drive quickly, but would he be able to drive quite so quickly without all the wind tunnels, turbo systems and over-caffeinated spreadsheet nerds wearing polo shirts? Race stewards look at incidents as they occur and deliver their verdicts, occasionally promptly. Some drive-through or time penalties are applied. Everyone is happy. Well, not entirely, but that’s what makes Drive to Survive viable.
Certainly wins the award for most charming names. Snicko and Hot Spot fall under the DRS umbrella but could easily be mascots at future World Cups. Crucially cricket leaves the use of tech up to captains and sides with umpire’s call a deciding factor on close decisions. So the tech is there to help, to a point, and tough luck if you misjudge when to use it. Tech for grown-ups in other words, in a way football can only dream of.
Much like tennis and cricket, baseball benefits from being a sport of discrete repeated actions. Coaches or umpires can request a review of anything contentious and these decisions are then “sent to New York” to be judged, an even more glamorous version of being “sent to Coventry”. Same result, though: strike two!
Refreshingly simple. Ball in or ball out? If unsure, ask all-seeing Hawk-Eye. Crowd does some clapping, replay arrives quickly, justice immediately served. Great news for accuracy fans, but a huge setback for anyone who dreams of another line-call meltdown in the spirit of John McEnroe or Jeff Tarango. Thank goodness Nick Kyrgios is gamely maintaining the tradition.
For the most part gloriously untroubled by such flim-flam as Hawk-Eyes, fairway-side monitors or anything even semi-automated. In fact it is the only sport which is rowing back on the involvement of tech. In 2017 the United States Golf Association and R&A jointly said they would no longer look at “evidence” recorded on fans’ phones nor respond to most television viewers’ complaints about rule infringements. Quite right too, down with the dobbers.