Premier League: RefVARees say sorry but are doing little to rectify errors

The referees' professional organization made the unprecedented move to apologise for an error by a referee and his VAR assistants at a Premier League match. But John Roycroft feels saying sorry without addressing the problem is an empty gesture.
Premier League: RefVARees say sorry but are doing little to rectify errors

Everton's Richarlison (left) and Manchester City's Rodri battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Goodison Park, Liverpool. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.

LAST weekend's Premier League action had many of the season's familiar storylines.

Leeds took another beating. Newcastle (or maybe 'Newcashle') continue to buy their way out of relegation. Manchester United squandered another chance to seal fourth place and automatic Champions League qualification. Manchester City won again, ticking off another three points in their relentless pursuit of retaining their title. And another erroneous VAR decision grabbed the headlines rather than any of football from the games themselves.

But unlike most weeks, we had the very unusual circumstances of the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited) managing director and referee, Mike Riley make personal phone calls to both Everton chairman Bill Kenwright and manager Frank Lampard to apologise for the decision made by the referee and VAR officials not to award the club a penalty in Saturday's game against Manchester City.

Match referee Paul Tierney and his VAR referee assistant Chris Kavanagh dismissed Everton's claims that the ball had clearly struck the arm of City's Rodri in their Premier League clash at Goodison Park.

In a regulatory world where offsides are often decided on whether the width of an armpit is offside or not, Rodri deliberately (albeit probably unconsciously) controlling the flight of the ball with his arm was the most obvious and clearcut decision a referee could make, not to mind when given the advantage of looking at it again with the available replay technology right there at the side of the pitch.

Premier League referee Mike Riley at the Premier League Video Assistant Referee (VAR) Hub in London.
Premier League referee Mike Riley at the Premier League Video Assistant Referee (VAR) Hub in London.

Outrage

The unrecognised offence obviously created outrage among Everton supporters because it probably cost them valuable points, as the defeat saw them slip to within one point of the relegation zone.

As was pointed out by many pundits, the decision and eventual result, also had the impact of making Liverpool's bid for Premier League title all the harder, as it extend Man City's lead over Everton's neighbours to six points, rather than four if it was a draw, and three if Everton had managed to go on to win.

The outcry over this error was louder than most weeks, with Sky and Match of the Day pundits taking their turn to have a swipe off VAR. Even former City stalwart Micah Richards said, "Rodri's face said it all. It's handball. It is below the T-shirt line.

"It's just ridiculous. We've talked about VAR so many times and they have got so many things right, but this one they have got wrong, and it has cost Everton dearly."

These days the pundits no longer slam the actual technology of VAR but rather recognise it is the failure of human interpretation of the data provided to the referees.

One has to admit there is a regular reoccurrence of the same referee names when there is controversy over VAR decisions, and this has led to suggestions that there should maybe be a transfer market for professional referees open across Europe. There are markets for players and managers, why not one for maybe the most important person on the pitch? The leagues of Europe could vie for the best refereeing talent on the continent and the best referees would rise to the top of the biggest leagues and certainly raise the wages of the referees in the process.

The VAR screen shows its decision not to award a penalty for a possible handball by Manchester City's Rodri during the Premier League match at Goodison Park, Liverpool. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.
The VAR screen shows its decision not to award a penalty for a possible handball by Manchester City's Rodri during the Premier League match at Goodison Park, Liverpool. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.

Hollow gesture

Anyway, Everton made an official complaint to the Premier League on Monday and the PGMOL made the unprecedented decision to apologise to the club for their obvious mistake.

Now one might say that to accept you made an error and say you're sorry is a good thing. But we were also taught that to say sorry without amending your behaviour so that you don't repeat the transgression, is just a hollow gesture.

Indeed, it's fair to say that the PGMOL should not have apologised to Everton at all, as it creates a precedence for referees required to say sorry to clubs, managers, players and even the fans, every time they make a mistake out on the field. Or worse, to create the pressure to apologise even if they were in the right.

At first, I think many liked the idea, that the referee organisation said sorry but if there is no actual attempt to rectify the errors then it becomes a shameless attempt to opt-out of the responsibility of proper officiating under a smoke-screen of regret.

The referees did not owe Everton an apology they owed them an explanation of how something so obvious as Rodri's handball could be interpreted the way it was. And what the organisation of professional referees intend to do to rectify it.

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