Rewriting the rulebook: Fixing offside and handball rules in a football world ruled by the video assistant referee

Featured in the Raumdeuter Online Magazine – Edition #4

Now we are several weeks into the season, supporters of almost every Premier League side have now experienced the almighty power of the video assistant referee (VAR) system and it’s penchant for disallowing marginal goals.

Offsides are quickly becoming the bane of forwards up and down the country, while the backwards handball rules involved with VAR continue to lurk in the shadows, rearing their head to snap away lastsecond winners and supporters’ euphoria with callous indifference.

Something must be done, as in its current form the Premier League rulebook simply doesn’t work with VAR’s sudden all-seeing omnipotence. There needs to be a reworking of the rules in order to facilitate the sudden additional angles, freeze frames and slow motion footage that can now dictate decisions in modern day football.

Those changes and updates must come sooner rather than later too, or risk permanently damaging some of the very passion and authenticity that football has built its worldwide reputation and popularity on.

The euphoric feeling of celebrating a late winner, a striker overcoming the odds to outsmart a dominant defence with some smart movement or a thunderbolt from the blue shocking a football Goliath are all moments football supporters across England can relate to.

It is those moments which they remember for the rest of their lives, the moments they look back on with the future generations and which spring to mind whenever their devoted love of the beautiful game is called into question.

Under VAR’s watchful gaze, we are in real danger of stamping out that raw emotion of the game. Football’s quintessential life blood is being irreparably changed in front of our eyes.

Innovation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. The sport has innovated plenty in the past, and technology helps continually further the benefits and limits to which the game and its athletes can reach. However, it must be done in the interest of benefiting the very core of the sport, and currently VAR isn’t an example of that.

Instead, it’s a reactionary system rushed in to help combat errors in an increasingly financially-driven game. With multibillion dollar revenues in the top leagues and countless amounts of cash switching hands across all kinds of sectors related to every single match, there had to be a rapid way to remove some of the inherent risk to the sport – even if that showed a blind ignorance to the importance of that pot luck in creating the very success of football as a global sport.

Video assistant referees are likely the way of the future, and they could have been implemented in such a way that was far less obtuse and counterproductive, but it would have taken a significantly longer time and much more detailed testing.

The logic and thought processes behind the technology are rational and sane. Mistakes are a negative, surely we’d want to remove them – or at least find a balance whereby luck can fall right for a side, sometimes the very catalyst for football’s magic moments, and still combating glaring, damaging mistakes.

Yet, instead of a lengthy, carefully planned and controlled introduction, the money talked and we watched as the technology was pushed into circulation arguably well before the kinks and issues were properly identified, tested and resolved.

But, it is here now and all the complaining in the world isn’t going to banish it from the game. As much as many would hope it would do.

So that means adapting the game to meet the new confines. Offside is arguably the easiest to remove the controversy over hairline differences and infringements, near imperceptible to the human eye, disallowing perfectly good goals. Instead, shift the focus and benefit of the doubt back to the striker – whereby they must be offside by half a body to be flagged as an infringement.

Defenders would still be able to position themselves and play the offside trap just the same, and yet there would far less ambiguity as to whether a player is an eyebrow offside as is currently the case.

Suddenly, VAR would seem less mechanical and troublesome, if it was just making obvious calls.

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