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IFAB’s Lukas Brud Discusses Challenges with VAR Audio

The Sound of Silence: Why IFAB is Staying Tight-Lipped on Live VAR Audio

Let’s take a moment to imagine the soundtrack of a VAR room during a top-flight match. Voices bouncing off each other, a cacophony of commands, hurried discussions, and the sound of replays being rewound and fast-forwarded. And amidst it all, the weight of millions of eyeballs hanging on every move.

Lukas Brud, secretary and chief executive of the International Football Association Board (IFAB), described the scenario when he revealed the reasoning behind the board’s decision to not broadcast live VAR communications. According to Brud, during his observation of communications between match officials, he found it to be “quite a chaotic situation”. Multiple voices – from the VAR and assistant VAR to the replay operators, the referee, and even assistant referees – contribute to this chaotic experience.

His exact words, as shared with BBC Radio 5 Live were, “I think it would be counterproductive for anyone to listen to all those voices talking to each other.” The question then arises: If not transparency through live audio, then what?

Transparency, But With Limits

Recent incidents like Luis Diaz’s controversially disallowed goal for Liverpool against Tottenham have thrown VAR back into the spotlight. The audio recordings regarding that decision were released, bringing to the fore the internal machinations of the decision-making process. But while IFAB acknowledges the need for fans to understand decisions, they draw the line at live broadcasts.

“We have given the green light to test the announcement of decisions to bring a little more transparency to decision making,” Brud noted, “but we are not prepared at this point to open up communication live to the audience.”

The Global Lens on Football

While sports such as rugby and cricket have adopted a more transparent approach, opening up their decision-making process to the audience, football’s unique challenges render such a comparison unrealistic. In Brud’s words, football undergoes scrutiny “through a magnifying glass”. Each decision, every word uttered would be dissected and analysed, potentially creating an environment fraught with peril for referees. The safety and focus of referees, after all, remains paramount.

To Reverse or Not?

The clamour for a potential “window” to overturn decisions, especially in light of errors made during games, has grown louder. But Brud urges caution. While admitting that improvements can be made in the VAR system, he emphasised, “We should not immediately start questioning the entire set up because in one of thousands of matches this situation has occurred.”

The Offside Conundrum

Delays due to VAR decisions remain an issue, with some decisions, like a recent one during Burnley’s match against Bournemouth, taking over five minutes. Brud acknowledges the advancements in technology, hinting at the possibility of semi-automated offsides in the future. But he also affirms the necessity of human intervention, especially when judging a player’s impact on the game.

Protecting the Protectors

Beyond VAR, another emerging issue is the protection of referees, especially at the grassroots level. IFAB is currently exploring measures to mitigate the abuse referees face. Sin-bins, temporary dismissals, are being considered, and body cameras have been introduced in some English leagues as a deterrent against misbehaviour. Brud’s sentiment on the matter is clear: “Football is not an emotional wastebasket, it’s sport, it’s supposed to be fun. We need to cut out some deeply-rooted behaviour.”

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