VAR is the latest acronym to join sport’s already overcrowded lexicon. But those three new characters are already changing the very nature of the games we play and watch.
As a new tech philistine I have mixed feelings about its implementation in sport. I suppose I am old school enough to remember when we played to the whistle and the referee’s decision was final.
Now in virtually every major sport the ultimate arbiter is not the ref nor umpire but the person working the video replay machine, aka the Video Assistant Referee or Video Assistant Reviewer.
The sight of a referee stopping play to draw an imaginary square box in the air has become a major feature of the current football World Cup. As I say, there is now barely a significant sport where a second opinion is not a requirement. Except, thankfully, in boxing.
I say thankfully because such technical intervention is contrary to the very nature of such a subjective sport.
And it is good to know there is there is no appetite for its introduction by the Board of Control or world governing bodies – at least, not yet. And I hope there never will be.
But don’t bet against the Olympics, which once had useless computerised scoring, bringing it in. AIBA are contrary enough to do it.
Just about the only situations where a review might be helpful are in deciding whether a blow was above or below the belt, or if eye damage was caused by an accidental or deliberate clash of heads, or a punch. But surely that’s best left to the ref’s discretion.
To halt a contest mid-round, draw a square in the air and call for a VAR would be an unnecessary irritant.
Of course it could always be used to review controversial incidents between rounds but would a referee want to use this situation to belatedly disqualify a boxer or deduct points? It would cause an uproar.
At the moment boxing has a far more pressing priority in educating ringside judges to correctly interpret what they see in terms if marking their scorecards both accurately and impartially. We have seen far too many ludicrous aberrations recently. Some judges need to be given their cards.
I suppose in this highly litigious age where a debatable decision can cost not only victory but a small – or large – fortune – we have to accept that some form of higher authority is necessary in certain sports, notably tennis and cricket.
But I do not particularly like it and this old dinosaur is not sure whether it is sport’s salvation or ruination.
It has had varying degrees of success in football because many controversial incidents still seem to be missed by the human eye and also whoever is scrutinising the small screen; most notably the tugging of shirts and body checking during free kicks and corners.
For me, it makes it all too clinical. What happens to the pub argument after a game? Was it really offside? Was it really a penalty? Was that really a low blow?
Intriguingly, had it been in use in 1966, would England have become world football champions? A video review might well have shown that the Russian linesman was wrong and that Geoff Hurst’s second goal in extra time did not actually cross the line, as the Germans claimed.
And as for the fourth, well, in the immortal words of commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme, some people were on the pitch because they thought it was all over. Any review of that situation surely would have decreed that such a pitch invasion was illegal, and therefore so was the goal. Just a thought.
But that is subjective. When, sadly these days, so much of sport is not.
I suppose we are going to have to live with VAR. But if it ever hits boxing and VAR becomes as much in common usage as KO then count me out.
VAR? You’ll find me in the BAR.
Veteran boxing journalist Alan Hubbard is a former award-winning sports columnist for the Independent on Sunday and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered boxing home and abroad for over 50 years.