Match-going fans can expect to be provided with more detailed information during video assistant referee (VAR) checks from next month, the Premier League has announced.
VAR has come in for heavy criticism from clubs and supporters alike over lengthy delays and a lack of clarity over precisely what is being looked at.
Representatives of the 20 top-flight clubs gathered in central London for a shareholders’ meeting on Thursday, with referees’ chief Mike Riley admitting to the delegates that improvements to VAR were required.
At a Shareholders’ meeting today, the implementation of VAR was discussed and the Premier League and PGMOL committed to improving the consistency of decisions, speeding up processes and increasing communication to fans
— Premier League Communications (@PLComms) November 14, 2019
While there was no change in policy over the use of pitchside monitors – which will continue to be used sparingly in a bid to keep the game flowing – from December supporters can expect to be given more information about what is being checked.
“Going forward, and working within the IFAB (International Football Association Board) protocol, there will be increased information made available to attending fans and viewers watching around the world,” a Premier League statement said.
“This will explain in more detail what is being checked. Importantly, the Premier League will continue to show the definitive clip or image for all overturned decisions in stadia, and remains the only major European league to do so.”
The league explained that giant screens would contain more information than they have up to now. For instance, instead of displaying ‘Checking Penalty’ it would now say ‘Checking Penalty – Possible Handball’.
The Premier League statement added: “The core principles of VAR were reiterated. These are minimum interference for maximum benefit, maintaining the pace and tempo of Premier League football and correcting clear and obvious on-field errors.
“Clubs strongly represented the views of their supporters and agreed VAR should be under constant review. Research will now take place with fans, and other relevant stakeholders, to understand their views on how the application of VAR could be best improved.”
Riley, the managing director of referees’ body Professional Game Match Officials Limited, accepted there were issues with the speed and consistency of decision-making and said that would improve as officials became more accustomed to using the technology. He also said the concept of ‘clear and obvious’ errors would be reaffirmed for subjective decisions, which of course would not include offside calls.
On the issue of pitchside monitors, the league stuck to its policy to use them sparingly.
“The policy of using the Referee Review Area was discussed and it was reemphasised that it would be reserved for unseen incidents, or when information from the VAR is outside the expectation range of the referee. Ensuring the pace and tempo of Premier League football remains an important focus for clubs,” the Premier League statement read.
West Ham co-chairman David Gold said VAR was “alive and kicking” as he left the meeting.
“We have just got to be patient. Changes have to be made and they will be. It’s improving all the time and we’re confident we’re doing the right thing,” he told Sky Sports News.
He said he “could not support” the idea of using the pitchside monitors more regularly.
“We’re going to have a referee who’s been running around for an hour who has got to run all the way over to the pitchside to watch events – that’s not right, we can’t do that.
“I think people want it to be improved and I think improvements will come. I have every faith in VAR. It is alive and kicking I promise you.”
The Football Supporters’ Association cautiously welcomed the announcement about greater information being made available inside stadiums.
“We’ve made clear to the Premier League that match-going fans have been left behind when it comes to VAR use in stadiums and it needs to be urgently addressed,” the FSA said in a statement released to the PA news agency. “We hope today’s announcement leads to an improvement for fans in the stadium and we’d also like better communication via PA systems and even pitch side advertising hoardings.”
The Premier League said there were an average of 6.5 checks per game and an overturned decision every 4.1 games.
The average time to complete a check was recorded at 33 seconds, and the average time for an overturn was 75 seconds.
A number of clubs are reported to have written to the league to complain about how VAR is being implemented, and Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow told Sky Sports News: “The message has got through to the league and (PGMOL) that fans are unhappy and many other stakeholders in the game think we’ve got to do a whole lot better.
“I expect to see real improvements in the speed of decisions, consistency which is what everybody craves, and I think above all else for those of us in the stadia we want much better communication about what’s going on before, during and after. I think if we get those three ingredients then things will look a whole lot better in a few months’ time.”
The gathered club bosses were also addressed by Prince William, and agreed to help promote the Heads Up campaign to increase awareness for mental health issues over two Premier League weekends in February.
Timings were also confirmed for the 2020 winter transfer window. It will open on New Year’s Day 2020 and close at 11pm on Friday, January 31.