Football is now too big and toxic for decisions to be accepted in good faith – The Guardian

Tee Rasheed
7 Min Read

Anger at technology and refereeing decisions is overblown but comes from the right place – a mistrust in the authorities
Anyway, we gave it a good run. It probably had to be tried. But now it’s time to admit that the best course of action may just be to scrap the whole thing. Bin it entirely. Too much controversy, too much pointless squabbling, too much bad blood and bad faith. And above all the overwhelming sensation that, in the pursuit of endless minuscule improvements, we lost something vital and elemental, the little spark of joy that brought us all here in the first place.
I refer of course to “football”, one of the world’s oldest and best-loved sports, but which for all its original good intentions is surely no longer fit for purpose. I know it feels like a backward step, given all the time and money invested in it. But even the most one-eyed advocates of “football” must agree that its introduction has been a colossal failure.
Well, do you have a better idea? Of course you don’t. You want decisions that are both objectively correct, and for your team not to be on the receiving end of them. You want gold-standard perfection because anything less is an assault on the integrity of the game, but you want it delivered instantaneously, because undue delays are an insult to the paying supporter.
You think referees are paid too much, and that we should get better ones. You think officials should be more transparent and open to scrutiny, and yet every time you see or think about an official, a hot and uncontrollable rage belches from deep within your soul. You think VAR has killed the emotion of football, and yet for some reason you seem to feel more strongly about it than most other things in your life.
You are – in short – a masochist, a child or a football fan, three terms that basically mean the same thing. The anger is real. The anger is lucrative. The content providers and pre-roll advertisers of the internet thank you sincerely for the anger. The anger is actually good, and we’ll get to why in a moment. What the anger is not is in any way curable or treatable. This is simply the default state of following football in any form, a point worth bearing in mind as we carefully address some of the many fallacies surrounding video technology and where we all go next.
The first and perhaps most stubborn of these is that everyone grudgingly accepted refereeing decisions in the past. Tell that to the family of Michael Oliver, who received death threats after he gave a late penalty to Real Madrid and sent off Gianluigi Buffon of Juventus in a Champions League quarter-final in 2018. Afterwards the Juventus president Andrea Agnelli used the game as irrefutable proof that VAR must be introduced “as soon as possible”, accusing Uefa of “scientifically” damaging Italian clubs.
It takes a special kind of rose-hued myopia to claim that controversies and conspiracy theories are somehow a product of technology. The sordid underbelly has always been there, and it was festering and mutating long before anyone put a freeze-frame on a defender’s heel. None of this touches the wider issue, which is that football is now simply too big and too avaricious and too toxic for decisions to be accepted in good faith.
Which brings us neatly to fallacy number two: that there is a “right” and “wrong” decision to make in every scenario, and – fallacy 2B – that we should strive for as many right decisions as possible. This is a sport of a billion subjectivities, from whether an attacker was interfering with play to whether a defender’s hand was in a natural position. The objective standard of proof for which football’s lawmakers so gallantly strive does not, in fact, exist. Everything is vibes. This has long been one of the enduring qualities of the sport. Not every throw-in has to be taken from the forensically correct spot. Not every shirt pull will be penalised with a foul. The number of “correct” decisions in this season’s Premier League has actually gone up compared with last season. Nobody cares, because you can’t defeat vibes with data.
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Finally, fallacy number three: that any of this is in itself a bad thing. “You can’t please all the people all the time, and yesterday all those people were at my show,” the comedian Mitch Hedberg once joked. And there are times when it can feel like football is trapped in a spiral of rage and reflex. Manager complains, fans fume, club puts out official statement, everyone else fumes at the sense of entitlement. But the rage itself, while often misdirected, while often abusive and grotesquely excessive, comes from the right place. Mistrust of authority, questioning those in power, scrutiny of the decision-making process: these are actually the signs of an engaged public. A public that could, with just a little coordination and a slightly sharper focus, actually get something done.
The same Premier League that pays for the VAR booth also sends your team up to St James’ Park for a Saturday 8pm kick-off. The same Uefa that appointed the referee who stitched you up on Tuesday night is also accelerating the grotesque concentration of wealth in the hands of the biggest clubs. So yes, by all means emote. Lean into the masochism, howl into the public square, embrace the rage. Scream about corruption and conspiracies, highlight errors and inconsistencies, call for replays and institutional change. But if the limit of your anger extends no further than overturning a dodgy offside call against your team, then perhaps it’s time to start dreaming a little bigger.


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