Former Premier League referees call for VAR discussions to be made public

It is hoped the move would improve the understanding of decisions and enhance accountability

Melissa Reddy
Senior Football Correspondent
Friday 12 March 2021 09:42
Referee Stuart Attwell checks the pitchside VAR screen
Referee Stuart Attwell checks the pitchside VAR screen

Former Premier League officials Mark Halsey and Peter Walton believe the conversations between match referees and the VAR hub at Stockley Park should be broadcast live in order to improve the understanding of decisions and enhance accountability. 

The introduction of technology in the game was meant to have reduced the time spent talking about refereeing decisions, but the focus on the men with the whistle has never been greater.

It has led to a spike in vile abuse culminating in death threats, most recently suffered by Mike Dean.

Halsey, who endured such hatred during his 14-year career officiating in the top flight, opened up about the impact it had on his family on the Between The Lines podcast. 

On the subject of helping to humanise referees and promote greater trust with supporters, he advocated making the audio between the match official and the VAR public.

“It’s a big factor that we need to hear the conversation between the ref and Stockley Park so everybody knows exactly what is going on,” he said.

“We can hear what they’re saying and we know what they’re looking at, why they’re looking at it and how a decision is reached. 

“That will go a long way to helping and letting the fans and everybody else understand what the situation is. It gives insight into how difficult it is to make a decision, even with VAR and to know how they came to it. We hear these type of conversations in cricket and rugby already.”

Walton, who spent nearly a decade officiating in the league and is BT Sport’s officiating expert, is in total agreement. 

“I think the referee and the officials have got a long way to go in improving their communications,” he said. “We are being held accountable. We are being asked questions. We are being asked why things have been done and why things haven’t been done.

“We don’t seem to have a polished approach in terms of answering these questions or indeed having a platform to answer these questions so I do think there are some communication aspects that we need to look at. 

“I do think there is scope for the fan to hear the conversation between VAR and the referee to understand why a decision has been given or not.

“VAR should only intervene when the decision has been clear and obviously wrong or the referee has missed something. 

“Therefore, that conversation had between VAR and the referee should be quite simplistic and easy to understand. I advocate that said that we should be looking at divulging that to the audience.”

Martin Cassidy, from the charity Ref Support UK, would also encourage greater communication but would also like to see an improvement in the framing of officials too.

“If the background noise could be managed in those VAR convos, I think it would be beneficial,” he said. “We’ve seen loads of communication that goes on through the headsets, which brings out positive outcomes.

“I think the main framework we would love to see that officials come out and have a chat on cameras, but not in a blame culture way. Just as an interviewer wouldn’t say to to a multi-million pound player, ‘I can’t believe you missed from six yards out.’

“They don’t do that. So don’t do that with refs. When pundits explains decisions and when the ref gets something right that is a tight call, they use the phrase, ‘he just about got that right.’ 

“That is not giving proper credit. If the ref gets it wrong, they absolutely castigate them. I think that we all could take ownership and the language we use really and how we discuss what referees do and what referees don’t do.”

Listen to Between The Lines here

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