Sport is the original reality entertainment. At its best, sport packages a dramatic episode (the match) with its own subplots, surprises, injustices along with the traditional villains and heroes that make good drama worth watching. It’s a pretty standard formula and one that creative storytellers replicate to keep audiences engrossed, so their product remains vibrant and successful.
Now imagine a dramatic production where the plot insists that the law must ALWAYS catch the villains, or the jilted partner ALWAYS gets a better one, or targeted victims ALWAYS get away from the assailant and the heroes ALWAYS win. No suspense, no controversy, no surprises at all because you just know that ‘perceived’ fairness will ALWAYS prevail. Would you watch more than one or two instalments?
Now the paragons to football may be stretched a little but relating it to what the authorities want to achieve with VAR, there is some alignment. VAR is seemingly trying to prevent human error affecting a match result. Notwithstanding that human error is also the reason why players misdirect a pass, or shoot wide of goal, or make poor match play decisions which directly affect the match result; it seems that only human error from officials must be eradicated. Problem is, extra officials are now relitigating on field decisions and making human errors of their own, compounding the growing problems with VAR.
On paper, it’s hard to argue that VAR is a noble ambition. In reality VAR has only added another layer to the injustice felt when its decisions have been wrong. However, an even worse scenario is when VAR gets it right and the audience is sanitised of powerful endorphin inducing passion. You can actually sense the flatness of the audience reactions compared to pre-VAR, as fear of a goal being overruled now quickly replaces euphoria for the fans of the scoring team. Whilst the gut wrenching despair that was felt when your team conceded a goal is now replaced by a more moderate ‘maybe it will be overruled’ mentality.
The emotional graph of a football match used to be all about the steep highs and lows. VAR has meant that this is now being replaced by gentle rolling hills of moderated emotions. The raw and unbridled elation or despair that football goals bring to an audience is eroding and this absolutely weakens football.
Being correct is obviously a desirable trait in some professions like medicine, law, engineering, accounting etc… however the very nature of entertaining storytelling thrives on alternative views and conflicts. VAR is what people are conflicted about now rather than the contest itself, and the result is the sanitisation of football which is contrary to the primal simplicity of what made the sport so great.
VAR was introduced to eradicate one undesirable element, but like the despised cane toad, it looks like becoming a much greater problem itself.
Will football have the courage to turn around and embrace its ‘flaws’ before it’s too late?