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Video Assistant Referee Has Fans Questioning the Sporting Integrity of the Premier League

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FSU chapter.

On match day seven of the 2023-2024 season, Liverpool Football Club’s 17-game unbeaten streak in the Premier League came to an end, following a 1-2 loss against Tottenham Hotspur. Both teams came into Saturday’s match as the potential challengers to Manchester City, who are eager to win their fourth consecutive Premier League title.

Aside from being the biggest match of the Premier League weekend, Liverpool at Tottenham was arguably the most eventful. Two red cards were handed to Liverpool which saw Curtis Jones sent off the pitch in the 26 minute and Diogo Jota in the 69. A defensive error from Joel Matip resulted in an own goal in the 96 minute that cemented Liverpool’s first Premier League loss of the 2023-2024 season.

While many Reds are upset with the loss against Spurs, football fans across all Premier League teams are angry about the quality of officiating that took place on Sep. 30. Luis Diaz had a goal ruled offside by Video Assistant Referee (VAR), which was immediately recognized post-match to be an incidence of “significant human error.”

Following the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) statement that acknowledged the fault of VAR miscommunication with the on-field referee, the Premier League’s Independent Key Match Incidents Panel ruled that Diogo Jota should not have been sent off during the match against Tottenham. While the panel ruled that the yellow card booked in the 69 minute was not worthy of a yellow card from referee Simon Hooper, it is the first yellow card from when Iyenoma Udogie’s trailing leg clipped Jota’s knee that seemed more worthy of reassessment.

Florida State University (FSU) student Michael Ragusa, who supports rival club Manchester United, believes that Liverpool was robbed, stating “Not only was the Luis Diaz goal obviously onside, but the referees had so many calls against Liverpool that VAR didn’t even look at. When looking at the red card for Curtis Jones on the monitor, VAR didn’t even bother to show the build-up of the play, just the picture of the foul which clearly looked like a red card. Diogo Jota was also given a yellow card for a foul where he didn’t even touch the attacker. VAR has to go.”

FSU student Marina Bray, who supports Liverpool, believes that “VAR is doing more bad than good, and most headlines about VAR recently in football have been about mistakes they’ve made rather than any good calls they’ve made. I understand that with advancements in technology, programs like VAR are likely to make their way into sports. But when programs are making multiple mistakes and having to publicly apologize to teams for bad calls every week, are these programs really making football better?”

Both Bray and Ragusa make thoughtful criticisms of the use of technology in sports. VAR has been used in the Premier League for five years and caused grief for fans of all clubs. The purpose of bringing in VAR is to minimize human error. However, the recent voice recordings from the VAR room that were released to the public show that, if anything, human error persists. The realization of miscommunication between the on-field referees and the VAR room occurred too late, as the Laws of the Game do not permit intervention once the match resumes.

Regarding Curtis Jones’ red card booking, using a still frame to decide yellow or red card bookings is not favored by football fans like Ragusa. Football is not played in still shots, so why should they be used to make decisions that could change the trajectory of the game?

When VAR does not serve its intended purpose of minimizing human error, its disservice does not go unnoticed, and fans are quick to catch on. The English Premier League is widely recognized to be one of the most competitive professional football leagues in the world. Continuous headlines about VAR mistakes can be damaging to the league’s reputation and possibly lead to fans questioning the sporting integrity of the league.

Despite the loss against the Spurs being their first of the 2023-2024 Premier League season, the manner in which Liverpool lost to Tottenham weighs heavy for the Reds. Had Luis Diaz’s goal not been ruled offside, the game would have ended in a 2-2 draw, which would allow Liverpool to take one point from the match. In the Premier League, every point matters and could be the difference maker between a team winning the league or being subject to relegation.

Manchester City has won five out of the past six Premier League titles, missing out once to none other than Liverpool. Conversely, Liverpool has missed out on two Premier League titles by a singular point to Manchester City. The consistent battle for the Premier League title between Manchester City and Liverpool FC over the last several years has led to many fans dubbing these recent years as the “City Pool” era. With championships being won under such narrow margins, it comes as no surprise that Liverpool fans are upset that three points were lost in Saturday’s match.

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Savannah is a Public Health major from Jacksonville, Florida. She enjoys long walks on the beach, playing piano, and long distance running.