The cost of VAR is simply too high for the Football League – Stuart Rayner
Not everyone shares that opinion, though.
Reading manager Veljko Paunovic was the latest to call for the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system to be introduced to the Championship after his side’s draw with Hull City. Luton’s Nathan Jones, Millwall’s Gary Rowett and Blackpool’s Neil Critchley are other advocates.
You would think VAR had been a roaring success, not the very hit-and-miss affair it has been, with seemingly as many if not more decisions made in the television studio (or by the referee at his pitchside monitor) further disputed as put to bed.
The counter-argument is if even a small number of debatable decisions are resolved satisfactorily, that is progress.
But at what cost?
“I do think it’s a positive tool,” said Sheffield’s former FIFA referee Keith Hackett last month. “Can the Football League afford it? Can the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited, which provides and organises officials) have sufficient officials available to monitor it?”
Two years ago, the FA Cup rulebook outlined the cost of VAR – £9,251 plus VAT – charged to lower-league clubs such as Leeds United, Huddersfield Town, Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday when they played at Premier League grounds because whilst is was fine for two lower-league teams to play without it, it did not sit right with the authorities not to use it on grounds which already had it.
This season’s rulebook does not specify a cost but at 2019-20 prices, it would cost the Championship £12.26m a season – presumably more for clubs not already set up for it.
And once all Championship clubs were, one would expect them to use it in the cups too, adding costs for more lower-league away teams. Then the calls would start for League One. Well, not start – Bolton Wanderers manager Ian Evatt has this season called for it to be used across the Football League.
An extra 12 matches a weekend covered by VAR would need additional video assistant referees... and assistant video assistant referees, and technical support. It would take more of the better referees – and they are scarce – off pitches.
It is a back-of-a-fag-packet number but we can say with certainty the actual figure would be pretty big. In fairness, some advocates for Championship VAR are pushing for “VAR-lite” but it would still not be VAR-cheap.
When a league which is already reliant on charity from the top division is asking for – and should get – more from it after the publication of Tracey Crouch’s fan-led review, is this a battle worth fighting?
Asking the clubs or the League to pay seems wrong. Begging the Premier League for the money on top of or instead of the extra cash those beneath want redistributed is unwise.
Those amounts could be better spent eating into the Championship clubs’ reported debts of £1.3bn. Even just some of it could be spent on more training and/or conditioning for professional referees and linesmen to try to reduce the number of errors VAR is there to mop up after. It could go on higher wages to encourage more masochists to be the least popular man or woman in a football stadium.
This is surely a battle for another day.