Gareth Ellis: We have seen in league that VAR can produce some video nasties

Referee Phil Bentham.
Referee Phil Bentham.
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THE VAR (Video Assistant Referee) system in football has caused all sorts of problems and it is perhaps no surprise.

We have had it in rugby league since 1996 – the first Super League season – and still have plenty of problems with it now.

Used correctly, of course, it probably can help the game, seeing legitimate goals allowed and illegitimate goals disallowed, but it doesn’t seem that simple.

Having seen video technology involved in different sports it seems to be different in every one of them.

With football – especially with the World Cup coming up – is it a slippery slope they really want to head down?

For me, with the video referee in rugby league, when it first came out it was only shown at two games – the two television ones.

Obviously there’s costs and logistics involved with having a video referee at every Super League fixture, but you’d have liked to think the game could have moved on to a point where we could afford to have them at all matches.

Gareth Ellis

By now you’d have envisaged it would have expanded to every game, but more than 20 years later that still hasn’t happened.

We still only see it at two games – or three if Catalans Dragons are at home – and it does seem those games are refereed a little bit differently to the rest.

Originally the video referee was only there to adjudicate for try-scoring – that’s the only input they had – and it brought some drama into the game.

But now it seems they’re influencing how a referee is refereeing a game.

They are being told ‘this has happened, that’s happened’, and that is why, for me, it’s become a problem.

It makes a mockery of the system knowing a try could be given one week but the following week it’s chalked off due to the video official looking at an obstruction 50 metres away that would never have been picked up any other time. It is crazy.

I do think we need to think about getting the video referee at all games or maybe not at all.

It doesn’t have to involve the big screen at every one; when the NRL started with it was just a red light or green light.

Obviously there’s costs and logistics involved with having a video referee at every Super League fixture, but you’d have liked to think the game could have moved on to a point where we could afford to have them at all matches. Unfortunately it’s not.

If the plan is never to have all games with video referees then maybe there is a conversation to be had that we do scrap it completely and go back to the normal way of officiating.

It’s a tough one as we do see video officials now helping referees with acts of foul play as well. But the disciplinary committee is always there for that anyway.

I know it does not influence that game if something is missed, but there’s enough people on the field to probably make that judgment anyway.

I think we need to make sure that it is set out more clearly what video officials can and can’t do. We’re even getting to the stage now where refs themselves are looking up at the screen at live broadcast games.

If they get decisions right that’s the important thing. But it’s not consistent as it doesn’t happen at every game and that’s the concern for most people.

Lee Radford made a good point the other week as well when he commented on how long games were taking when video officials were involved. The derby at Hull KR took more than two hours to complete.

We are known in rugby league for being fast-paced, but as more and more decisions go upstairs the spectacle is slowing down. That’s not good for the sport and you do wonder if officials are becoming too reliant on using the system.

As a player, the video referee system treated me pretty well in a couple of the major incidents.

I was playing for Leeds Rhinos against Bradford Bulls in that famous Magic Weekend game in Cardiff when Jordan Tansey scored at the finish. Likewise I was with Hull when Chris Green got that controversial try against Rovers in the Magic derby at Etihad.

This illustrates the point; even with all the technology they still missed the offences in both and got the decisions wrong. It just shows that you can still get it incorrect regardless.

Even now you feel a lot of video referee decisions can go either way. It’s never as clearcut as you’d think and it’s never going to be. That’s just the nature of the beast.

The Premier League have decided against using it next season after trialling it in this current campaign so they have clearly thought better about it. The thing about rugby league is it’s always been innovative – we were one of the first to start using the system – and football might be a little different.

There’s so many people against it and everyone likes a good moan. Will it take on in football eventually? I’m not sure if they’ve got it right in how they use it. It seems to be a bit cloak and dagger. Referees seem to drift off and make a decision and the crowd are left in the dark for long spells, too.

It’s easy to analyse a game afterwards saying this should have been done or that, but that’s part of sport and has been for years.

I don’t think anyone expects referees to get every decision correct; they’re human beings and players don’t get everything correct on the field.

It is just that level of consistency you want. When I played I had referees that made mistakes and actually apologised to me saying, ‘I got that wrong’. You respect them for that. Phil Bentham was one of those.

Sometimes he’d actually apologise during the game. But there was others where almost a sort of stubbornness kicked in with them and they stuck with their view regardless.