The best compliment a referee can get is that they weren’t talked about during a game. It is a thankless job where performance is often criticized and rarely praised.
Different sports leagues around the world have tried to help referees out by implementing video review into the rules.
The NHL, CFL, NFL, and MLB have coach’s challenges still with many kinks to the systems that need to be figured out. FIFA has Video Assisted Referee (VAR) and basically everything in the NBA is reviewable.
This may seem like advancement in sports as video review basically eliminates disastrous non-calls such as Matt Duchene’s famous offside goal. Clearly this merits review and should not have been called a goal. But how often does such a blatantly obvious play like that happen? I’ll give you a hint; the answer is once in a blue moon.
In sports, blatant non-calls like the one above cause for bad rule changes. The obvious fix is to implement video review to eliminate plays like that one. However, in today’s NHL, coaches are challenging if a player’s skate was millimetres off the ice before the puck entered the zone.
Rules are rules. Offside is black and white; however, take this play for instance. Filip Forsberg’s skate is deemed millimetres off the ice when entering the zone so Subban’s goal gets called back.
Personally, I don’t think anyone can dispute the fact that the placement of Forsberg’s skate had a significant impact on the play. However, due to the wording of the rules, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan made the call to challenge and was successful in getting the play called back.
That was a hockey example, but what about the other sports? The NFL recently implemented challenging penalties due to referees missing a clear pass interference call on Mikel Robey-Coleman during the closing moments of regulation in the NFC Championship Game in the 2019 playoffs.
The NFL had finally made the right call, seemingly, and took a page out of the CFL’s book, which made pass interference reviewable a number of years ago. While this is certainly a positive development, it is only a matter of time before a controversial moment will arise due to this change.
So, where am I going with all of this?
One sport has video review down pat – soccer. In soccer it is called video-assisted referee, or VAR. VAR has slowly been implemented in leagues across the world by the International Football Association Board in 2018. At first, people were very much against VAR as soccer is a very traditional sport but since it worked beautifully during the 2018 FIFA World Cup, fans, players and clubs have been more and more on board with it.
The reason it works so well is because the rules in soccer are black and white. If the ball touches a players hand in the box, it is a penalty. A player is in an offside position if they are nearer to their opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent. The wording of the rules cannot be disputed or misinterpreted.
However, there was outrage at the implementation of VAR across many of the biggest leagues around the world such as the Premier League in England. Former Manchester United manager and now TV analyst for Sky Sports, José Mourinho, responded and said it best during a broadcast; “Only thieves can complain about the introduction of security cameras.”
My point is video review is good for sports. However, the rules need to be altered so we are not reviewing a Stanley Cup game winning overtime goal because someone’s skate is a millimetre off the ice.
Graphic by Victoria Blair