The really dumb and infuriating era of watching faceless video referees draw millimeters thin lines from armpits and toenails to call players offside by a few atoms is set to be over mercifully almost as soon as it had begun.
No, VAR isn’t going anywhere.
They just won’t be showing them draw lines “live” on TV.
Instead, they will do that behind the scenes (hurray transparency!) and just present the final result to delight/infuriate.
That’s according to reports from the PGMOL’s annual meeting yesterday, first by Times, then picked up and confirmed by other outlets as well, such as Sky Sports, which also confirms that the process will use “thicker lines” next season, to “give the benefit of the doubt back to the attacker”.
That sounds great in theory, though the devil will be in the details — which are not available at the moment and probably won’t be until we actually see the system in action.
The biggest problem in the way offside review is implemented currently isn’t the thickness of the lines, but rather how the lines are used.
The Premier League, like most other leagues including the Eredivisie, draw 5cm-thick lines — they just look thin because the camera’s zoomed out far enough to show the entire width of the pitch on TV. But the Premier League only care which line is ahead of which one. A few other leagues, such as the Eredivisie, allow for a small margin of error by VAR not acting when the two lines overlap or touch. That gives the system a 10cm margin of error. (Technically speaking, if the lines overlap, VAR doesn’t change the call on the pitch. So this can lead to goals being ruled out that the Premier League system would allow, but that’s where the assistant referees calling the game conservatively with late flags comes into effect.)
The offside tech in the Eredivisie is the same as in the Premier League.— Dale Johnson (@DaleJohnsonESPN) December 1, 2020
The red and blue lines are each 142 pixels, which equates to 5cm.
If the two lines touch, it's umpire's call. And this creates a 10cm margin of error on offside.
It’s unclear if the PGMOL’s proposed solution allows for this overlap to occur, which may not be actually allowed by FIFA’s rules (who oversee VAR implementation these days), though some leagues have chosen to ignore that stipulation.
Actual thicker lines could also be helpful — reason will prevail! — since the margin of error in choosing the right frame for “when the ball is kicked” can be as big as 20cm, if not more. 5cm lines only allow for a 10cm maximum error on the other end. Just doubling the width of the line would bring that determination more in line with the technical limitations of the system (not to mention the act of actually determining “when” exactly the ball is kicked, which is not defined that precisely in any rulebook).
More reasonable margins of error will also be important if and when we finally figure out a way to automate this review process (thus cutting down on all the waiting) and let SkyNet take over.