VAR: In-stadium experience poor for fans - Premier League chief football officer

Video assistant referee decisions are taking too long and offer a "poor" in-stadium experience, a senior Premier League official says.

Chief football officer Tony Scholes feels VAR is largely positive addition to the Premier League,]

He said that the number of correct decisions being made has increased from 82% in the period before it was introduced in 2019 to 96% now.

But he acknowledges "clearly everything in the world of VAR is not perfect".

The two areas of specific concern are the time taken to reach decisions and the experience of fans.

Although football's rulemaking body Ifab has extended the trial of stadium announcements by referees - where they confirm what decisions have been made - there are no plans for real-time audio to be released in the manner of international cricket or rugby.

Scholes feels it will eventually come but, for now, the Premier League can do nothing.

"The in-stadium VAR experience for supporters is poor," he said. "It's nowhere near good enough. We know it's not.

"It affects supporters' enjoyment of the game, and we know it needs to change.

"My personal view is we're on a journey and that will come and we'll get to a point where both the video and the audio is played live and then played afterwards to explain the decision.

"We're constrained by Ifab at the moment. They are very clear at the moment we cannot use the audio. We will continue to lobby them to get to a place where VAR is as open, transparent and informative to supporters as it is possible to be."

A Key Match Incident Panel, which includes ex-players, examines big decisions after every match round and Scholes revealed it has found that during the 2023-24 season so far, there have been:

  • 57 'correct' VAR interventions, 24 of which were for occurrences on the pitch that would otherwise have been left as wrong decisions.

  • 20 errors, 17 of them relating to incidents where VAR should have got involved but didn't.

  • Two instances of VAR incorrectly overturning on-field decisions - including a penalty decision for Arsenal's Kai Havertz against Manchester United in September which was overruled by VAR, with head of elite refereeing Howard Webb even claiming it was a "clear and obvious error" and a "good use of VAR".

If that disagreement shows how subjective VAR can be even between 'experts' reviewing the same incidents, then the biggest and undisputed VAR mistake to date remains the Luis Diaz 'offside' disallowed goal for Liverpool at Tottenham in October.

A number of Premier League managers including Wolves boss Gary O'Neil, Sheffield United's Chris Wilder, Arsenal's Mikel Arteta, Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp and Brighton's Roberto De Zerbi have been critical of VAR and of refereeing standards, alongside many pundits and some players this season.

Webb has been pushing for more transparency including releasing audio of VAR decisions on regular televised shows.

Scholes still feels a major improvement is required.

"We're doing too many checks and we're taking too long in doing them," he said. "To a degree it's understandable given the level of scrutiny these guys are under, from ourselves, also from you guys [the media] as well as from supporters.

"But the reviews are taking too long and it's affecting the flow of the game. We're extremely aware of that and the need to improve their speed, whilst always maintaining the accuracy."

Scholes used to be Stoke City's chief executive and understands that opinions at clubs may not tally with some of the more positive observations coming out of the Premier League.

But he said: "It's an unfair assessment to say the quality is poor. The beauty of the independent panel means that we can do some kind of quantitative measuring of the accuracy of their decision making. The panel's results would suggest that match officiating in the Premier League is at least as good, if not better than it's ever been."

A crackdown on player behaviour has worked, added Scholes, with 145 yellow cards for time wasting compared to 67 at the same point last year and 112 bookings for dissent so far - up from 48.

"Referees are doing as we asked them," he said. "The players are responding. We don't see the mass confrontations like we were doing before. We still see a little bit of surrounding match officials but nowhere near the level it was."

And more added time means more goals, says Scholes. "We are at 3.2 goals per match now - 730 goals so far. A record breaking amount at the weekend with 45 goals scored. And interestingly a lot of those goals are taking place in added time."

On the question of decision-making accuracy, Scholes sounded a "note of caution" around the calls for semi-automated offside, as seen in the 2022 Qatar men's World Cup.

He said: "We don't believe it will improve the accuracy of decision making. What it will do is speed up the time of decision making. It's extremely important in that regard. We are testing a couple of systems at the moment and we hope to be going to clubs for a decision later in the year. But that's not a definite at the moment."