Is VAR a passion killer for the Premier League?

The Premier League is back: 20 games, 52 goals.

Thirty-seven players have scored so far, including hat-tricks from Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling and Norwich’s Teemu Pukki, with the added twist that every goal is now scrutinised by a video assistant referee (VAR).

Lawmakers said they had received “much positive feedback” but “some apparent wrong understanding and applications of the laws.” IFAB made no reference to the handball law or its interpretation.

Premier League match officials met on Tuesday and, according to Swarbrick, were “really happy, really comfortable” with the way they have checked and reviewed around 130 incidents in the opening two rounds of matches.

“This is evolving,” he said. “The main issue we have had is the in-stadium experience for fans.”

Former referee Neil Swarbrick says supporters need to trust video assistant referees after several high-profile incidents in the Premier League.

Which is putting it mildly. Again, we shouldn’t be surprised.

IFAB don’t want instant replays shown on big screens, in case referees feel under additional pressure. The PGMOL don’t want to set a maximum length of time for each check and review, for the same reason. Therefore, fans at games can expect to feel more frustrated.

Out of the 20 Premier League stadiums, 18 will continue to show a “Checking…” graphic on big screens. Supporters at Anfield and Old Trafford must make do with a stadium announcement and smaller screen for text only. There seems no quick fix.

The Premier League could allow VAR incidents to be shown on big screens after a decision has been made. But do supporters want to look at them after play has resumed?

“I wouldn’t want them to constantly start looking at the screen,” said Swarbrick. “As we move forward, things might change, but we’ll see how we progress.”

Should fans get to listen in?

One solution would be to allow fans to listen to real-time communication between officials. It would require approval from IFAB, and PGMOL chief Mike Riley has previously told SSN it may happen by 2026.

“Yes, it could happen,” acknowledged Swarbrick. “Will it be beneficial? Potentially. The fact that people can listen to match officials’ decision-making and communication. I leave all that to IFAB.”

And therein lies the issue. Each competition is doing its best to implement changes in its own way. Laws are laws but they remain open to interpretation.

Referees chief Mike Riley says Premier League refs’ conversations won’t be audible to fans following the introduction of VAR, but it could happen in the future

Ever the optimist, Swarbrick said: “We will get fairer and better judgements on decisions throughout the season. It might take fans a while to get used to it.”

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