There is a time and place for experimenting with adjudication technology in sport, and the answer is never, ever in a make-or-break clash to potentially decide whether a team advances to the finals.
But that is exactly what the A-League decided to do last weekend when they introduced a VAR (video assistant referee) for the round, including Saturday night’s clash between the Wellington Phoenix and Sydney FC.
It was a match which Wellington mathematically needed to at least draw, and realistically had to win, to keep their hopes of making the play-offs alive.
Not only was the new technology present, it had a direct impact on the result when with 20 minutes remaining the VAR intervened to rule a Phoenix hand ball in the box, leading to a penalty which FC striker Bobo calmly converted.
The eventual 1-1 draw isn’t the reason the Phoenix missed the finals (a day later Perth beat Brisbane to crush Wellington’s play-off hopes anyway) and footage suggests the VAR probably came to the correct decision in awarding the penalty.
That however is beside the point. The A-League’s decision to trial this technology at this point in the year, and in this case use it to arrive at a game-changing ruling which in any other fixture this season may have been missed because of a lack of video evidence, was simply unfair.
Amusingly if we had VAR in the first Sydney game as opposed to the last, we’d be in the top 6. #welvsyd
— Dale Warburton (@Dale_Warburton) April 8, 2017
It beggars belief that it be used in important matches rather than easing it in through dead-rubber encounters like last weekend’s between Newcastle and Central Coast, both of whom were already well out of finals contention,
Ref misses something weeks 1-25 of the 2016-17 A-League season = shit happens. Ref misses something weeks 26-27 = VAR. Farcical. #WELvSYD
— Andrew Voerman (@andrewvoerman) April 8, 2017
Overall these experiments are healthy for sport and while the use of this type of technology is a polarizing topic in football, it’s worth the A-League at least exploring the concept.
But this is not the way to go about it. Restrict it to meaningless games and don’t change the playing field after 25 rounds for teams still competing for overall glory.
The NRL has it right with the way they introduce these ideas, typically picking select games which have no bearing on the play-offs late in the year.
The VAR will now be used in this weekend’s final round of regular season play, as well as the three weeks of the A-League finals series.