Foot stepping on a soccer ball

Is VAR Ruining Football?


It’s 1986, and the FIFA World Cup is nearing its final stages. It’s been nearly a decade since Argentina’s last world cup victory, but they have made it to the quarter-finals. This feat is largely made possible by their unstoppable number 10: Diego Maradona. To advance to the semifinals, all the Argentines have to do is beat England.

And so they did. Early in the second half of the match, a British defender attempted to clear the ball towards his goal. The English goalie came out to punch the ball away but Maradona, who had been following a failed pass into the box, jumped up to challenge the keeper in the air. He did so with his left arm outstretched near his head and cheekily tapped the ball into the goal with his fist. 

Looking back at recordings of the game, you can see the British goalie and defenders tapping their hands to indicate a handball, which is not allowed in soccer. However, from where the referee and linesman were positioned it looked like a clean header. Argentina was given the goal and ended up winning the match 2-1. 

Today, this goal is known as “la mano de Dios” or “the hand of God,” and it would have never been possible with modern VAR technology. VAR stands for Video Assistant Referee; it is a series of complex cameras and a team of referees that analyze video footage of potential offside goals or potential penalties. It was officially written into soccer law in 2018/2019 and was meant to provide solid evidence for any “clear and obvious errors.”

While VAR has certainly helped keep the playing field fair and has been crucial in making some good calls, it has also brought a certain level of ridiculousness to football. Teams can’t even celebrate after scoring anymore, they have to wait to hear what the VAR has declared. The pitfalls of VAR have been seen time and time again throughout this year’s Euros. 

In the Netherlands vs. France game, Dutch midfielder Xavi Simons buried the ball into the back of the net. However, post Dutch celebration, three minutes were wasted waiting to see whether or not the goal would be overturned. While it was a good call, since a Dutch attacker was in an offside position blocking the French goalie from making the save, it interrupted the flow of the game. It can’t feel good celebrating a goal that was made in vain. The Netherlands ended up drawing with France 0-0. 

More recently, in the Germany vs. Denmark match, an outrageous offside call overturned a Danish goal. To clarify, a goal is considered offsides when the player who scored it was behind the last defender. Being truly offside can give the scoring player an unfair advantage over defenders when they make their way to goal. This specific offside call was rather harsh seeing as Delaney, the goal scorer, was only offside by the top sliver of his cleat. It also played a role in Denmark’s defeat. VAR decisions have a way of messing with morale. Instead of leading the match 1-0, Denmark ended up trailing 2-0 and was eliminated from the tournament. In a post game conference Denmark’s coach remarked, “Yeah, it was an even game. And then in the end, it was the referee who decided the game for us.”

It’s calls such as this that bring up the question of VAR’s validity. Delaney was offside by mere millimeters, he had no clear advantage yet, his goal was taken away. Looking at the offside photo provided by VAR, most people would agree there was nothing clear nor obvious about the call. It goes to show that the technology and its applications don’t always live up to its principles. As with any other engineering feat, VAR needs concise regulations. 

As it stands, there is no tolerance when it comes to offside calls, which makes it unfair for players who aren’t training to be onside with VAR precision. While VAR can ensure unfair goals are overturned, it has also taken the power of deciding a match’s outcome out of the player’s feet and placed it into the hands of the referees.