Error-prone Premier League referees are not good enough, video-assistant referee (VAR) technology is not fit for purpose and the game has “lost the plot” over handball, former English referees chief Keith Hackett said on Tuesday.
A number of VAR rulings were disputed at the weekend as Leeds United’s Patrick Bamford had a goal ruled out for a T-shirt sleeve offside, while penalties were given for handball against Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers that were criticized by pundits.
Hackett, a Premier League referee until 1994, said that while VAR needs to be examined, officials on the pitch need to look at themselves, too.
“The standard of refereeing has fallen,” Hackett, who was the general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOL), the body responsible for appointing match officials in England, said in an interview.
“When I ran the PGMOL we were delivering 10 or more world-class referees on a budget of ￡5 million [US$6.6 million]. Now, we have two elite referees, from a budget of over ￡20 million.”
FIFA, in fact, only allows three “elite” referees from each individual country.
“It is run like an old-boys’ club now,” Hackett said. “There is no accountability… These guys are not amateurs, they are getting six-figure wages — you have to deliver.”
“They are producing better referees in Europe. You get three or four key refereeing errors per weekend in the Premier League now, and even two or three in one game. The standard is not good enough,” he said.
During his time in charge of the board, Hackett was instrumental in the introduction of goal-line technology in the Premier League.
VAR was brought into the league last season, but it remains unpopular with some English top-flight managers and fans alike.
Hackett said that VAR has many flaws, but its drawbacks start with the technology itself.
“We got VAR wrong from the word go,” Hackett said. “With goal-line technology, for accuracy and speed of decision, cameras around each goal are operating at 500 frames per second. With VAR, the technology is operating at 50 frames per second. That is not enough.”
“We should be talking to the manufacturers — the equipment has to be better,” he said.
However, how the equipment is being used is doing more harm than good, with dotted lines to determine an offside causing particular concern, he said.
“With the Bamford scenario, you don’t want a law that acts as a defender, helping to rule out goals,” he said. “Do away with the lines and leave it in the hands of a well-trained VAR, as they do in the MLS [Major League Soccer in the US]. They don’t have many controversies over there. Why are we making it too complex?”
“The law has to change on offside. Give the benefit of the doubt to the attacker, rather than the defender, and write the law to accommodate that,” he said. “If that means daylight between last defender and attacker, then so be it.”
The handball rule has also become contentious. Nine handball penalties have been awarded so far this season in the Premier League, compared with six given in the entire 2017-2018 campaign.
“When you start to penalize accidental handball, we have lost the plot,” Hackett said.
“Handball should be deliberate to gain control, movement of hand to ball or to stop an attack. VAR is not at fault in this case, it is the laws,” he said.
“There needs to be a complete review of the PGMOL, how it is operating and what its requirements are,” Hackett said. “We are sanitizing a match into a technical game. It is not about entertainment, it is not about flair. Make it less complicated and make VARs specialists, not just referees doing that job. Then we might see a difference.”
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