Can Premier League and VAR co-exist?

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The Premier League has had an adverse reaction to the use of technology for the video assistant referee (VAR) for the first time in an entire campaign. It has been used previously in the FA Cup and received similar feedback from the viewing public.

However, officials were undeterred and pressed forward with the plan. It was a bold decision by the Premier League, but the first season proved that there is a long way to go before the system is a well-oiled machine as seen in other sports such as tennis and cricket.

Some improvements can be made to the technical tools used by the companies supporting the Premier League in the initiative. We’ll now breakdown two of the main issues and improvements that could make a difference.

Goalline Technology

Time was goalline technology was a godsend for referees and linesman across the globe. All England fans remember and still feel cheated by Frank Lampard’s goal that never was against Germany in the round-of-16 in the 2010 World Cup. Hawkeye brought an end to that nonsense, deploying six cameras around the goal to determine accurately whether or not the ball had crossed the line.

It worked seamlessly in the Premier League for seven years until Oliver Norwood’s corner burst through the hands of Aston Villa keeper Orjan Nyland and traveled over the line. It clearly was a goal for Sheffield United, but the system failed to trigger the alert on the watch of referee Michael Oliver and the goal was not counted. Sheffield was denied two points as the contest ended in a draw, while Villa claimed a vital point towards their battle against relegation. At the time, Villa was one of the leading contenders in the Premier League betting odds to be relegated to the Championship.

However, the incident ultimately allowed Villa to remain in the Premier League at the expense of Bournemouth and Watford. A lawsuit could be on the horizon. Hawkeye apologized and claimed their camera was obscured, which resulted in the failure. A simple workaround for the future could be to place a tracking chip inside of the ball that would relay the signal rather than cameras. The technology is utilized in tracking player movements so there should be no reason why it could not be deployed inside the ball. It would also aid decisions regarding corners and throw-ins that can often be contentious. Tennis and the NFL would certainly be watching with great interest.

Offside Decisions

Perhaps the most contentious issue in the Premier League and VAR this season has been offside decisions. There has not been a strong amalgamation between the technology and the Premier League’s regulations, leading to frustration from supporters and pundits alike. One of the difficulties that have arisen is the quality of the images presented to the video referee in the studio, who has been forced to make decisions based on grainy footage.

Sky Sports’ cameras inside stadiums only operate at 50 frames per second. It’s good enough to watch a match, but when making decisions regarding incidents that take place over hundredths of a second problems can arise. The only way to improve the picture would be to increase the frame rate of the cameras to 60fps. Whether resolutions can be improved beyond that remains to be seen. The next major step would be to install cameras that provide a 360-degree picture – handing the officials a 3D image of the incident. Thereby they could make a more accurate decision rather than the struggles they currently encounter on a weekly basis with the current system.

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