So, 100 days after football was suspended in England and within 41 minutes of the action starting back, there was controversy! The non-award of the goal for Sheffield United at Aston Villa, has re-ignited the debate of the use of goal line technology and VAR. While it was never seen as the solution to all ills in the game, the fact that a goal was not awarded when it was clearly (not inches, or even debatable) over the line, raises the issue about the consequence when the technology, doesn’t function correctly. I won’t say fail as we don’t know why it was not picked up. With the goal line technology malfunctioning, I do not understand why VAR didn’t kick in. It was clear that the ball crossed the line, but ir appears that the remit of VAR does not allow for its intervention. I fully understand the basic premise of this, as goal line technology should cover it, but if as reported the seven cameras could not pick it up, surely VAR should be able to kick in! I can also understand why the assistant referees didn’t pick it up, as they will not be as switched on for goal line interactions as they would think that the technology would be available, though now, they may become more aware.
If the FA do not want to go down the route of using VAR when goal line technology malfunctions, is it now the time to allow for a Captains Challenge. I would also suggest that the option be extended to Rugby Union, as you often see players asking for the referee to check with the Television Match Official (TMO), on many occasions during a match. Many sports have the ‘Challenge’ rule. These sports, including cricket, tennis, baseball and American football, and they have frequent stoppages and are primarily set plays. This allows for a challenge at the end of a set play. Previously, I would have been averse to this option in rugby union and football, but having watch the rugby league during lockdown, the NRL have incorporated a ‘Captains Challenge’ this year, and it appears to have been successful.
The challenges would be limited to certain situations and also limited to the number of challenges allowed. This has a double effect on the game. It will hopefully remove the badgering of the referee if they feel a decision has gone against them, especially of they have used their quota of challenges, and any badgering results in a yellow card. In the NRL the challenge can only be made after the game has stopped, and must be done within 10 seconds. It has a specific list of decisions that can be challenged but has predominantly used for stealing the ball and obstruction. (https://www.nrl.com/news/2020/02/20/captains-challenge-trial-system-finalised-for-all-stars/). This could fit in well with rugby union and be adapted for football, as would have allowed a challenge the non-goal at Villa Park.
What the limitations for football is open to debate, but the guide for rugby union would be similar to rugby league. If the decision resulted in a scrum, lineout, it can be challenged, or certain types of penalty (not ruck, maul or defensive offside as they are open to interpretation). An example of a challengeable call would be the penalty that was awarded to Australia in the last ten minutes of the 2015 World Cup match against Scotland. The penalty was awarded for playing the ball following a knock on from an offside position. The decision should not have been awarded (though at the time, I had no quibbles, and still can’t blame the Craig Joubert as it happened so quickly), as an Australian had played the ball and made the Scottish player onside. This would have been challenged and overturned. I would also add that if a decision is challenged and the TMO / VAR can’t decide within 60 seconds, the original decision should stand.
The decision for football could be more contentious, but it may be free kicks outside the box, corners, yellow cards, (if it is debatable), and goal decisions.
If the Captains Challenge (or designated player (or two, as per NRL)), is brought in, it would also have a positive effect on the understanding of the laws / rules of the game. You often see players complaining about decisions, that were correct, as they don’t understand the laws / rules. The best and worst thing I did was become a qualified rugby referee. Initially it frustrated me, as previously when I thought that I was right, it was ok, but with the qualification, I knew I was so when I got penalised!!!!!! I do feel that if a player comes through an academy, they should be required to undertake a refereeing qualification, so that they were aware of the rules and regulations of their game.
Cricket has had a review system for many years, and the use of them has lead the Australian captain to undertake an umpire course. During the 2019 Ashes in England, he was successful in only 8 / 35 challenges, and Australia would have won the third test, if he had used his challenges better. He challenged a decision from a ball from Pat Cummins on Jack Leach, when England required 8 runs to win. It was unsuccessful, then six balls later, with no reviews left, Nathan Lyons got Ben Stokes LBW, but it wasn’t given, but as they had no referrals left, they couldn’t review and subsequently lost the test. Since then, Paine hs undertaken an umpire course, and made the decision that only the bowler and wicket keeper can ask the captain for a challenge. This shows that even though they are elite athletes they may not be fully up to speed on the intricacies of the laws and rules of the games and the interpretation required by an official.
The Captains Challenge, if incorporated, I would suggest would be limited to two challenges (potentially) one in each half and can only be requested by the Captain and a designated other. The request must be in a defined time (10 seconds, as in NRL), and will be limited to certain specific instances. I would also suggest that, if the official review cannot give a definitive answer within 60 seconds, the call should be what the officials called. However, if it is the official that requests a review (as with the TMO in rugby), the current protocols should be followed.