Scrap or change VAR, which is robbing football of iconic moments, say MPs

The controversy over VAR reached Parliament today as MPs called for the system to be axed or overhauled.

Labour MP Toby Perkins demanded the video assistant referee be scrapped from the sport.

It was introduced to the Premier League at the start of this season, which has been suspended amid the coronavirus crisis.

But high-profile matches have been marred by controversial decisions – and outraged fans have chanted “F*** VAR” in frustration.

Leading a Westminster Hall debate, former Shadow Minister Mr Perkism said there was “almost universal agreement that the way VAR is currently being used in the EPL is bad for football”.

Soccer is “the most successful, richest, most widely watched and played sport in the history of our planet” because of its “simplicity and its accessibility”, he said.

Blasting the “soulless VAR experiment” was “robbing” fans and players of the joy of celebrating goals, Mr Perkins told MPs.

“A goal can be a thing of beauty – a thrilling movement that builds to a crescendo, with a truly thrilling release; or it can be workmanlike, it can be brutal, the ball forced over the line. It can be fortunate, freakish or amazingly simple, sometimes even comical and farcical,” he said.

“It can be controversial, a moment to delight and bring a nation together in a shared explosion of joy; or it can be tragic, as an entire ground, indeed a nation, clasps their head in their hands in perfect union.

“There is no other moment in any other sport so special as the moment in football in which a goal is scored.

“But however the goal is scored, it is rare and it is important – and because of its rarity and its importance, it matters and it is celebrated.

“And it is this, the very fundamental ethos of what it means to love football, that is the moment that VAR chooses to besmirch – that moment of simple joy or simple despair that is robbed by a faceless man sat on an industrial estate in South West London, sat miles away from those who really care as all they can do is wait for his dreadful and often imperfect verdict.”

Mr Perkins wanted VAR abolished, but called for changes to the offside rule if football chiefs insist on keeping it.

He said a goal should not be ruled out for offside if “one player’s toe is a millimetre beyond another player’s”.

The MP for Chesterfeld, Derbs, added: “This is not what the offside rule was designed to outlaw and it needs rewriting, to return to the original principle that if the majority of two players' bodies are basically level then the striker he is considered to be onside.”
Fans in stadiums to be able to see replays, to reduce the mystery around for decisions for paying supports,” said Mr Perkins.

And he called for on-field referees to view goals and build-ups so they could decide whether they made a “clear and obvious error” with their original decision.

Scottish National Party spokesman David Linden said reviews took too long when “fans were sitting trying to work out what on earth has gone on”.

“It's perhaps for that reason that so many fans are chanting, 'It's not football anymore' in the stands,” he said.

“This microscopic analysis is killing the game.”

But SNP MP Brendan O'Hara branded critics “footballing luddites”, saying decisions had to be correct because they “can cost millions of pounds” and clubs' futures can be “mapped out” by right or wrong calls.

He added: “It's not that VAR is wrong in and of itself, but it's the implementation of VAR that should be improved rather than chucking the whole experiment out”.

Shadow Culture Secretary Tracy Brabin claimed VAR was a “scourge”, harming “those iconic moments in football when the ball ripples to the back of the net, terraces erupt”.

She said: “They have all too often been lost this season, replaced with anxious faces watching the screen to see if the goal has gone to be checked.”

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said it was up to the Premier League and clubs to decide on VAR and any changes.

He added: “I may have a view on this but I am afraid I have no such control.”

Attendances at top-flight grounds were running at 97.5%, he said.

“The Premier League continues to deliver a fantastic experience and the introduction of VAR doesn't seem to have hampered attendances,” said Mr Huddleston.

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