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Video refs set to kill all the joy in calamitous quest for justice

The Thursday Column

Referee Felix Zwayer awards Spain's second goal against France after a review
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The comparisons with Brexit are unavoidable, even though here at the Racing Post we like to provide you with a shield from politics and focus instead on fun stuff like racing, sport and betting.

But in the week the UK chose to leave Europe, football took a similarly seismic step towards exiting the traditional world of letting humans referee football matches, as the arbiter in the France v Spain friendly on Tuesday was instructed to deploy the services of a video assistant referee for certain decisions.

The use of video is, like Brexit, a source of hot debate, with the
pro-video camp urging the authorities to hurry up and introduce it and those who are keen for things to remain as they are equally vociferous in their opposition to its introduction.

I am passionate in my belief that video, having killed the radio star, will also kill, or at best seriously disfigure, the greatest sport that has ever been invented. Put simply, its introduction, now as inevitable as Brexit, will be a disaster for football.

Its advocates are already purring on the evidence of Tuesday’s game in Paris, when utilisation of the VAR caused a wrongly allowed French goal to be chalked off for offside and a wrongly disallowed Spanish goal to be given when replays showed the scorer was onside.

Why, you may then ask, am I or anyone else objecting to the use of video when it ensured two key result-influencing decisions were corrected?

It’s because football’s appeal is that it flows. It is fast-moving with a rhythm that entrances us. That beguiling tempo is already being affected by unnecessary stoppages for free kicks and substitutions but it faces being killed stone dead if additional pauses are introduced just so we can discover the referee and his assistants were either right or, occasionally, have made an error.

Moreover, the unalloyed joy of a goal being scored, which, when all is said and done is the essence of why we support football teams, risks being contaminated in a way that will rob us of the euphoria we feel when the opposition net bulges.

When your team scores you go mad. It’s as simple as that. You forget the drudgery of your job, the shelves that need putting up tomorrow and the impending visit of the mother-in-law, and for a few blissful seconds you are the happiest person on the planet.

Every once in a while you feel a bit of a tit because the bloke next to you is nudging you and nodding towards the linesman’s raised flag that you were the last to notice, but mostly it’s a rare opportunity to put the worries of the world to one side and feel bloody brilliant.

When video replays are introduced that will not be how it works. You will not be able to shout and scream and leap around like a madman because you will be checking to see if the ref is holding is finger to his ear as he asks his colleague in the booth to look again.

And even if the decision to let the goal stand is upheld, the moment will have gone. The magic will be lost. You’ll cheer and punch the air but it won’t feel quite the same, and while what I’m saying might sound like a flimsy argument when put up against someone logically championing the virtues of getting every decision right, I shall be keeping a cutting of this column in my drawer, ready to brandish when those who are currently convinced we should be using videos suddenly express a desire to return to the good old days.

And they will. I shook my head in disbelief at how many people thought events in Paris on Tuesday proved the merits of video refereeing beyond doubt. They didn’t mind that each visit to the man with the monitors took 40 seconds, which is actually a long time when nothing is happening and those in the ground aren’t even able to see what the VAR can see.

They will certainly mind when these things last upwards of two minutes, as they do in rugby. And they will mind when the bloke in the booth still can’t come up with a clear decision, as would have been the case, for example, when Damien Delaney was adjudged to have brought down Christian Benteke last season.

Games will take well over two hours to complete and players will go from waving imaginary cards at refs to making imaginary screen gestures in their faces, like they are involved in some frantic game of charades.

Accuracy levels will nudge up slightly but at a price that is far higher than people are currently prepared to acknowledge. And once it starts, no doubt with some hollow reassurances that it will be for only a small number of situations, it will creep and creep into every decision a referee makes.

It will transform football matches into an unsatisfactory series of a huge number of short segments of action punctuated by stoppages, reviews and restarts.

But we will get justice, as I have heard a few people say as the debated has heated up. Don’t give me that. Do not talk about justice.

This is not a jury being forced to decide whether a defendant is guilty or innocent of murder, it’s a game of football. If the ref makes the odd mistake, that’s fine by me.

Referees do a superb job and it is not their ability to get things right that is forcing through this stupid decision to bring in the video ref, it is the failure of spectators, participants and the media to accept the officials cannot be perfect that is the cause of this impending farce.

The failure of the pro-video brigade to realise just how disruptive their plans will be to football’s exquisite cadence worries me greatly.

Before we take the plunge it would be irresponsible not to at least, at domestic level, experiment with extra officials behind each goal line. They would make a real difference without affecting the flow of the game.

Sadly, though, it appears football’s equivalent of Article 50 will be triggered any time now, and that makes for a decidedly uncertain future for those of us who wish things would remain as they are.

Desperate loss for England as Zaha slips through net

Gareth Southgate's comments about the circumstances that led to Wilfried Zaha choosing the Ivory Coast over England were, as is always the way with these things, blown out of all proportion by the press.

The England manager did not “launch a stunning attack” on Zaha, as one paper claimed, but he did claim he would pick only players who were desperate to play for the Three Lions, and apparently the Palace wizard wasn’t deemed desperate enough.

 

Even if true, it’s perfectly understandable that Zaha’s desire to play his international football for England rather than the land of his birth was on the wane after he had sat and watched clearly inferior players get into the squad and the side ahead of him for four years.

I’m keen to know just how much more desperate Southgate regards some players than others when it comes to pulling on the white shirt.

Because it is difficult to forget the revelation made by Harry Redknapp not so long ago that Spurs players often tried to get him to pull them out of England squads, and it’s not impossible at least one of them is still part of Southgate’s posse.

So perhaps instead of trying to point the finger at the player himself, Southgate should stop making imbecilic pious comments about commitment and accept his share of the blame for allowing this phenomenal talent to slip through his fingers.

Hereford makes a happy return

When Hereford closed in 2012 it was a sad day for racing because losing a course is never a sign of the sport’s prosperity, and a sad day for my bank balance because I used to make money buying the winning distances there.

It was nice little track too as I recall from my only visit, in 1985. So, in the week Hereford completed its first season since it reopened last October, a ripple of applause is in order for Arc chief executive Martin Cruddace for having made that happen.

And not only have racing fans in the area been able to enjoy the delights of the course again but the runners have, by and large, had the decency to finish roughly as well spread out as they used to there.

I am passionate that video, having killed the radio star, will also kill, or at best seriously disfigure, the greatest sport that was ever invented
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