New Premier League chief referee Howard Webb wants to shed some light on how decisions are made between officials and VARs this season.
Webb, who refereed the 2010 World Cup final, understands fans’ frustration with the apparent lack of transparency in decision-making, and is working on ways to make refereeing more open and accountable.
Webb joined Professional Game Match Officials Limited earlier this year, after serving as Managing Director of the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) in the United States.
PRO has posted weekly reviews of contentious decisions from Major League Soccer’s latest action on its YouTube channel, including audio of discussions between on-pitch officials and VARs.
MLS also trialled livestreaming audio between officials and VARs in a small number of matches in 2020, but required FIFA approval to proceed with the project.
Webb admits that football culture in England is different from that in the United States and is wary of the unintended consequences of overexposure of referees in the media, but is determined to make the process more visible.
“We want to try to change the perception a bit, to be a bit more transparent and open,” he said.
“Not everything we’ve done in Major League Soccer will work here, it’s a different environment, but some things will work.”
When asked if fans in England will be able to hear audio of conversations between officials and VAR in some form during the current season, Webb said: “Hopefully we get to that point where we can share some of that. I think people will find it interesting.
“Even if people don’t agree with the final decision, if people understand the process and the rationale, they’re much more accepting of the decision. We’re not going to please everyone.
“There will probably be a world at some point where this communication is made available. No problem, we have nothing to hide.
“The level of professionalism and the way they communicate is really good here.
“I can’t wait to pull that curtain back for everyone to see.
“It’s just about understanding better so they don’t face unfair or unwarranted criticism.
“I know the frustrations. I’ve been to games where the ref made a decision and you never hear from the ref or anyone around him and there was a mystery why that decision was made.
“I understand why this sometimes causes frustration and even resentment. If we can find ways to handle this, then all the better.
VAR remains a hugely controversial tool in the game, with debates still raging over the touch bar and its place in football.
Webb said: “We have to focus on the decision-making on the pitch.
“There’s been a lot of noise around VAR in recent years. It’s a great tool, but there’s been so much noise. It’s one of the aspects I’ve been asked to consider.
“I’ve spoken with the referees about the philosophy of VAR, it’s not too different from what they’ve been told before. They’ve worked so far so far, the same way we have. saw at Euro 2020, a kind of similar mentality.
“We talked about going on screen and keeping your decision.”
Webb said there would be no immediate change to the way referees in England calculate added time.
A focus on actual playing time and accounting for all saves, including goal celebrations during the World Cup, led to games averaging 101 minutes in length.
The average for the first 16 rounds of this Premier League season was 98 minutes.
“It seems at the World Cup they were much more prescriptive adding absolutely everything in a way that then led to a high number,” Webb said.
“Thinking back to my time in MLS, we had teams come and tell us there should have been 16 extra minutes at the end.
“So you go through the game, and if you count everything, maybe they had a case, but 16 minutes would just be irrelevant.
“If you put in 16 minutes, people would say ‘what are you doing?’
“So you have to take people with you. You can’t do it randomly. What we’re doing right now is kind of trying to find a balance point.
“We are in line with the other top leagues in the world in putting something believable on the board that accounts for lost time, counts for stoppages, penalizes people for delaying the game.
“Could you stop and report more? Yeah, you could. If that’s the direction we’re being asked to take, fine.
“There are a series of issues that could also arise regarding the lifespan of games – is that what people want?
“Is that what the coaches want, those extra 12 minutes when the players are tired?
“I think that’s where the biggest difference (at the World Cup) was – this focus on a specific time around goal celebrations and a few other things, as opposed to this looking for a more believable time on the table that is in line with what both teams expect.