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Will Premier League scrap VAR? EPL to vote on Wolves proposal

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VAR has become an institution in top-level European football over the past five years, including in the Premier League where the replay review system has been in place since 2019.

During that time, video review has attempted to correct a host of refereeing errors, but has not come without controversy. While VAR has done well to stamp out “clear and obvious errors” it has also come with significant optical complications, as getting calls wrong on review brings with it added scrutiny and additional embarrassment.

The narrative around VAR and its implementation has come to a head, as one Premier League club has proposed scrapping the system entirely. The proposal now faces a vote at the league’s general meeting in June.

The Sporting News takes a closer look at the likelihood of VAR being abolished, why this proposal has been brought forth, and what other changes could be coming to VAR in the near future.

MORE: How to fix VAR — Conclusions from Sporting News exclusive tour of Bundesliga replay studio

At this point, the idea to completely rid the Premier League of VAR is simply a proposal and must pass a vote by the 20 clubs in the league to be brought to fruition.

The proposal to scrap VAR will be voted on by the 20 Premier League member clubs at the league’s annual general meeting on June 6. At this point, only 19 members for the 2024/25 season are known. The 20th will not be decided until the conclusion of the Championship playoff final on May 26.

In order to pass the vote, the proposal requires approval by two-thirds of the member associations, meaning 14 clubs must vote to scrap VAR for it to become a reality.

That threshold being met feels highly unlikely at this point, despite fan sentiment having turned seemingly decisively against VAR. Far likelier is the proposal being a driving force for debate on the topic that allows the clubs to potentially push through changes and improvements rather than actually abandoning the replay system altogether. The club which proposed the vote even said so themselves, claiming they wish to have “constructive and critical debate on its future.”

“Clubs are entitled to put forward proposals at shareholders’ meetings and we acknowledge the concerns and issues around the use of VAR,” a Premier League spokesperson told David Ornstein of The Athletic. “However, the league fully supports the use of VAR and remains committed, alongside PGMOL, to make continued improvements to the system for the benefit of the game and fans.”

All proposals brought to vote at the annual Premier League general meeting must be pitched by a particular club to be voted on. The club that wants to scrap VAR is Wolverhampton Wanderers​​​​​​, who were on the receiving end of a host of contentious VAR decisions across the 2023/24 Premier League season.

The club’s statement indicated that while they do not believe any individual or body to be at fault for the replay system’s perceived failures, they wish to discuss changes on the matter.

“There is no blame to be placed — we are all just looking for the best possible outcome for football — and all stakeholders have been working hard to try and make the introduction of additional technology a success.

“However, after five seasons of VAR in the Premier League, it is time for a constructive and critical debate on its future. Our position is that the price we are paying for a small increase in accuracy is at odds with the spirit of our game, and as a result we should remove it from the 2024/25 season onwards.”

According to ESPN’s rules expert Dale Johnson, as of early April, Wolves were the victim of three VAR errors over the course of the past season in league play, third-most of any Premier League club behind only Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, and remained the only club not to have a VAR overturn go their way all year, right or wrong.

One change already in place for next season is the use of semi-automated offside technology, which will be implemented in Premier League stadiums for use across the 2024/25 campaign. If VAR remains, of course.

Currently, VAR officials must manually draw lines on a screen to review razor-thin offside decisions, which takes an agonizingly long time and creates significant room for error. The Sporting News was given a tour of the Bundesliga VAR studio back in November of 2023
, and saw first-hand the painstaking, multi-step process this entails.

While exceedingly expensive to implement and therefore limited in its global reach, the new technology will greatly improve both decision-making accuracy as well as downtime. Instead of referees manually drawing and positioning lines, a system of cameras will use AI technology to make the offside decision itself, leaving VAR officials to determine the kick point of the pass for use by the technology.

Offside decisions and the time they take are a significant source of frustration for fans, and this improvement will go a long way towards improving not just the success rate of the replay system overall, but also towards cleaning up the messy reputation VAR currently has across the football fraternity.

While discussion remains about the impact of VAR on football as a whole, numbers indicate that replay review has been, on the whole, a massive success with regards to improving refereeing decision-making across the globe.

A report in 2018 by FIFA claimed that without VAR, officials had a 95 percent success rate on the field, but with VAR, that jumps to 99.3 percent.

“We have always said that VAR doesn’t mean perfection – there could still be the wrong interpretation or a mistake – but I think you would agree that 99.3% is very close to perfection,” said FIFA referee chairman Pierluigi Collina at the time.

Back in early February, ESPN claimed that there had been 20 confirmed VAR errors this season in the Premier League, a drop from 25 the previous season. However, a closer look at the breakdown of those incorrect decisions indicates that improvements are being made.

The majority of VAR errors have come from replay review missing decisions in which they should have intervened (17 of 20) — and those would have been wrong even without VAR, as they are down to poor refereeing on the pitch. Meanwhile, only two of those 20 decisions were down to incorrect overturns by VAR.

Yet along with that, the time to make decisions has also increased dramatically as officials place an increased value on accuracy over speed. The Premier League has acknowledged this fact, and increasing decision-making speed without sacrificing accuracy will be a key talking point amid Wolves’ bid for radical change.

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