Why VAR?

Barney Ronay doesn’t like VAR:

The fact is, for all the expertise, the manpower, the money spent, VAR just doesn’t work in football. It diminishes the experience of watching in the stadium. It skews the game decisively one way. It is one of those ideas, like bendy buses, or communism, that would simply be better off abandoned.

As that passage suggests, Ronay’s focus is on the experience of football for people actually at the grounds:

At Stamford Bridge the time spent watching a middle-aged man stand very still looking sad while another middle-aged man watched television in a bunker brought a kind of dissolution. In those moments the air seemed to have been sucked out of the ground, a drowsy numbness falling across the crowd, an awareness of being subject suddenly to invisible outside influence. Whereas, for so long the whole point of the spectacle, the thing that has always marked it out, has been the chance to lose yourself in that communal experience, the joy of complete abandon that for so long was the essence of English football grounds.

He acknowledges, though rather dismissively, that people watching on TV may have a different set of priorities: “In the end a lot of this boils down to what you think sport is for. If it is to be a distantly consumed third person spectacle, a series of coloured blobs moving on a screen, just one part of the digital leisure experience, than perhaps it does make sense to analyse endlessly the precise, elusive mechanics of why a man has fallen over.”

I think Ronay is correct in much of this, but perhaps he should remember that being able to attend the level of football that gets video review is a privilege reserved for only a few (and not just because of economic resources: distance is a factor too). I may believe sport is “for” actually being present but that belief won’t get me to the grounds. And if I have to watch my favorite team on TV that will not necessarily be for me “just one part of the digital leisure experience.”

Anyway, it seems to me that the major factor missing from Ronay’s analysis is simply this: money. Everyone formally involved with a club — from owners to coaches to players to social media managers — can benefit (or lose) financially from the success (or failure) of the club. In a relegation battle tens of millions of dollars can be at stake. For supporters money is rarely involved, except through lost bets, but social credit can be at stake, and that is sufficient to generate anxiety. Given these various kinds and degrees of investment, it can be extremely difficult for people to accept refereeing errors as simply “part of the game.” The pure pleasure of being at the game is unlikely to outweigh all those other investments — nor can I see why it should.