VAR is Revolution!

On 13th February 2018, Ajax played Real Madrid in the Champions League. The match ended 2-1 amid controversy regarding the use of VAR. There are lovers and detractors of the technology but I am here to say I condone its existence. Long live VAR! But why am I an admirer? After all, it causes temporal instability and gives further control to the officials who are not beyond reproach. The beauty of this video assistant referee is the anarchy it causes. It dismantles notions and narratives entrenched in o jogo moderno. It reveals how flawed the sport and its rules and, by extension, the humanity of the 25 individuals on the pitch. The romantics talk of jogo bonito, how soccer should be played, its purpose and meaning to millions of its fans. With love comes pain and sorrow and further love. VAR is the catalyst for these emotions!

Observe the source of these furrowed brows. Ajax were awarded a goal that put them in the lead, 1-0. The referee required a video review and the goal was subsequently disallowed. The reason was for an obstruction on Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibault Courtois by Dusan Tadic who was also deemed offside. The official was correct in his summation and the goal should not have stood. That, of course, did not stop the naysayers from voicing their grievances.

For there is a deeper narrative at play in this particular example. Ajax have not won a European trophy since 1995, when they won the Champions League. Before that, they were the greatest club in the world during the 70s thanks in part to the wizardry of Johan Cruijff. The closest they came to reclaiming European glory was in 2016, when they lost to Manchester United in the Europa League final. Ajax have become a selling club for the bigger teams in Europe. Older and newer fans alike – some assigned the roles of modern-day “hipsters” – want Ajax to be successful again. Their iconic youth system is itself a narrative, congruent with society’s strong association with youthful virility and vitality. They also play the roles of “babyfaces” to coin a phrase from the world of modern-day wrestling. The “heels” or “villains” of this parallel narrative are Real Madrid.

They are the current champions, and winners of the most Champions League/European Cup titles in history. Their richness and dominance are agree with another persona society identifies with – the alpha male. They have bulldozed many teams over the years and anti-Madridistas would take the utmost pleasure in watching their destruction. But it is happening before our eyes! Their league campaign is perishing like Nero’s Rome and further ruination invokes delight in their rivals. What better champion of these galacticos than the sprightly Ajax!

But our world is not ideal in the drama of our cultural narratives. Reason and order are pesky irritants, flies in the ointment, to use an English idiom.  The official made the right decision in disallowing it. Tadic prevented a fair goal. Why is VAR to hold this burdensome revolt? It is far too easy to blame a system that has no feelings, no ripostes, no way of improvement without human interactions. You should blame the men behind the systems (and they are men, for women receive frighteningly little involvement in soccer at the highest level) if you think they are flawed. Lest we forget, it is video-assisted refereeing. Humans are the ultimate decision makers. Referees have a reputation for making questionable decisions. The problem is now compounded fourfold! VAR is not your enemy! And perhaps you should look inwards at what you desire. If you do not like the sport’s administration, do not look to this technology as your moral compass. Officials did not create VAR to shift the power away from the Goliaths, towards the Davids. Some argue this happened before the video assistance was introduced but clearly not enough.

Instead, we must accept our fates. VAR is not going away. The Laws of the Game have implemented it. Yet ironically, it continues to stand on trial. But it is exposing the foundational problems in the sport and our aims should be rebuilding and rejuvenating. This is a chance to create o melhor jogo for everyone: man, woman, child, all genders, nationalities, sexualities, races, religions. We must strive for better representation and protection for them to live and breathe this game. Video assisted refereeing should not be your bugbear when it is merely pointing out the evident criticisms in pseudo-real time.

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