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Premier League referees to make on-field VAR stadium announcements next season

Premier League referees to make on-field VAR stadium announcements next season
Referees believe the new proposal will make the process more transparent to match-going fans - Getty Images/Darren Staples

Premier League referees will make on-field VAR announcements next season that will be broadcast over stadium public address systems, under new plans by Howard Webb to make the process more transparent to match-going fans.

The proposal was mentioned by Webb, the head of English referees, on his television appearance last month to analyse recent decisions, although it is understood that plans are well underway for next season. Originally the top referees – PGMOL’s select group one – were told in private that they would be able to decide as a group whether the measure would be introduced but it now seems inevitable.

It may even be the case that Premier League clubs discuss those plans at their annual general meeting next month – the same meeting at which Wolverhampton Wanderers want a vote on scrapping VAR.

The format was adopted by Fifa in the Women’s World Cup final last year, and saw referees explain their decisions once they had been to the monitor to review a decision. Other leagues including Major League Soccer in the United States have adopted the convention.

In practice in the Premier League the referee would have to formally request that the VAR centre at Stockley Park authorise their connection to the stadium public address system before making the announcement.

Needless to say, that too is fraught with the potential for mishap and referees have required extra training. Some are not as confident as others in conveying succinctly and quickly the reasons for a decision to a live audience of tens of thousands of supporters.

The clubs would like to play replays of incidents wherever possible but the variety of provision of screens at stadiums presents problems. Live video replays are not possible at Old Trafford and Anfield which do not have modern stadium screens.

In MLS, officials have been announcing the details of decisions since the changes were introduced into law by Ifab, the body in charge of the laws of the game, in November.

Webb, chief refereeing officer of PGMOL [Professional Game Match Officials], said last month that the match-going experience needed to be improved. “When you hear the clips [of referees and VARs speaking] it makes sense of what’s happening,” he said on the show Match Officials Mic’d Up. “We’re looking at ways to improve the in-stadium experience.

“You will have seen in Fifa tournaments like the Women’s World Cup announcements from the referee once they have been to the screen. So we’re looking at that. We are keeping an open mind about whether that’s something we could utilise in the Premier League. It would be really useful for the referee to be able to speak to all the people in the stadium [to explain] the rationale.”

One of the issues at the Women’s World Cup was referees’ announcements being drowned out by the booing of crowds. Currently referees signal that a decision has changed on VAR review by drawing a rectangle in the air with their fingers.

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