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Ref chief Webb: VAR talks could be aired for better transparency

Howard Webb wants to increase transparency around VAR in the Premier League by sharing conversations between referees and video assistant referees with fans.

Currently, only big screens in stadiums show whether a decision is being reviewed by VAR and for what reason before revealing the outcome, but both fans and viewers are unaware of how and why decisions are made.

Former Premier League referee Webb has returned to English football to begin his new role as the first chief refereeing officer of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) and one of his key focuses will be on VAR.

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Following a number of controversial VAR decisions, we look at some of the most debated VAR calls in the Premier League this season

In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Webb, who was previously the general manager of the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) in the United States and Canada, said of broadcasting VAR conversations: “It’s quite interesting that I was involved in that conversation quite extensively in the US.

“I was part of a working group that looked at the possibilities of conversations between officials being broadcast live or quickly on a delay after the incident – and that’s a conversation that’s still ongoing and it’s one that I’m going to be watching closely.

“We’ll need certain permissions to make that happen from the world governing body.

“There’s certainly nothing to hide. I’ve been listening to some of the training that was delivered to VARs and referees here a couple of weeks ago and the level of communication is really high, is very professional and is very focused in terms of what the decision is being checked and the considerations that are being looked at.

“We’re preparing potentially for a day where that will be played out. We can play out post-event now – we’ve done that a lot in MLS and I’ll be looking to share some of that because when you hear the levels these people are working to it leaves a positive impression.

Major League Soccer Professional Referee Organization general manager Howard Webb gestures during an interviewed at the Major League Soccer 25th Season kickoff event in New York, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Webb has returned to English football after a stint working in the USA

“So we’ll be looking to increase that level of transparency going forward within what’s possible in the here and the now. Some things would need some authorisations from governing bodies, for example, to make that happen but everything’s on the table and we’re looking at ways to do that.

“The levels are good here and the perception is maybe not quite in line with reality.”

On Wednesday it was revealed by the Key Match Incident panel that Premier League video assistant referees have made six incorrect interventions this season, while 42 have been deemed correct.

Asked what the number one priority is in his new role at the PGMOL, the 51-year-old replied: “I think the number one thing I want to do is ensure that people understand that good officiating starts on the field, with good decision-making, good management of the game, efficient and effective management of players and that not all of the focus is on VAR.

“Most of the noise I hear when I’ve been outside of the English game about what happens with officiating here is around VAR. It seems to be the topic of conversation and it has been for a while now. Clearly, there’s been some bumps in the road with the implementation but good officiating is something that starts on the field.

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Following a number of controversial VAR decisions, we take a look at some of the most debated VAR calls in the Premier League this season

“So the focus will be around putting coaching and structures in place to support effective on-field decision-making. Then alongside that is ensuring the VAR works effectively as a safety net to capture those clear and obvious errors that sometimes can still occur with the decision that’s taken on the field.

“Increasing transparency – I think there’s been a need for that to happen a little bit more and drawing the curtain back on the process and showing people the rationale for decision-making, so I think that’s where my focus will be in those first few weeks.”

A message on the screen indicates a VAR check during the English Premier League soccer match between Brentford and Wolverhampton Wanderers, at the Gtech Community Stadium in London, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. The match ended in a 1-1 draw. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)
Big screens in the Premier League reveal whether a decision is being reviewed and the outcome

Webb, who refereed the World Cup final in 2010, is set to meet key personnel at Premier League and English Football League clubs in 2023.

Asked how VAR immediately needs to improve under his watch, he responded: “Without a doubt, it’s ensuring that people understand that VAR sits in a place where it will intervene when there is a clear and obvious error identified by the VAR. Minimum interference for maximum benefit.

“But I’ve got to manage expectations because there’s a lot of situations in the game which are really subjective where people will form a different opinion.”

A criticism of VAR is that on-field referees consistently change their decisions when called to the pitchside monitor with referees rarely sticking to their original call.

file - Referee Anthony Taylor checks the VAR screen during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, England, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. VAR's World Cup debut came in 2018 but referees and players are still getting to grips with the technology four years ago. Human error is still there with decisions open to interpretation however many times a referees goes over to the pitch-side monitor to watch replays
Referees check pitchside monitors in the Premier League to review VAR decisions

Asked whether it is a waste of time for the on-field referee to go to the screen, Webb replied: “No it’s not.

“The training we’re going to give to the VARs is around consistently identifying what is and what isn’t a clear and obvious error but that still involves a judgement call by a human being that’s looking at all the angles.

“That judgement call most of the time will be a good one because these people are highly trained, the referee goes to the screen on the recommendation of the VAR and usually they will change their decision if VAR is working properly.

“However, this human being, this VAR who has made this judgement might have made an incorrect judgement. They might have identified something that they think is a clear and obvious error but the referee disagrees so the referees are going to be absolutely empowered to say, ‘Thank you but in my opinion, I think my first decision was okay’. And they’ll be absolutely within their right to do that when they’ve looked at the screen.

“When referees get to the screen they will make the final decision and they can keep their call if they want – you won’t see that so often if VAR is working well.”

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