The excitement in the air! You’re walking down the aisles, picking up your AFL (Australian Football League) tickets and bags, excited about the big game that’s ahead of you. You’ve got your partner, your children, and maybe even some of your friends along for the ride. You’re probably thinking about what food to get backstage, and which team you should support. Suddenly, a sea of people start screaming, and you don’t know what’s going on. You’re being pushed and shoved, camera lenses are flashing, and everyone around you is talking and texting on their phones. It’s chaos! You finally realize that the game has stopped, and the players have stopped walking to the field. You look around, and everyone else is doing the same. There is no running, no catching, no throwing, no kicking – it’s just standing and watching.
You’ve been excluded from the game that you’ve all been waiting for so long. What happened? Well, as it turns out, the umpires made a mistake, and the line judges didn’t see a football moving towards the goal line, so the game never actually started. If that sounds like a recipe for disaster to you, it was! A simple mistake, yet one that was so frustrating to everyone involved.
What is the penalty for an incorrect rule interpretation like this? It’s a direct clash of rules, and in order for the umpires to get it right, the game needs to be paused while the rule is interpreted. For the rest of the afternoon, you simply cannot take a risk, because there is no certainty that the rule will be interpreted the same way the second time it’s called. As a result, the game is often plagued by errors like this that prevent it from ever truly starting. This is why AFL games are often referred to as ‘nil games’ – because they often result in scores of 0-0.
Here’s the good news: with the introduction of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) technology into the sport, these kinds of errors will become a thing of the past.
What is VAR?
Quite simply, VAR is a technology that allows officials to review on-field decisions, correct errors, and resolve disputed calls in real-time. In the next couple of seasons, we will see VAR used across all AFL rules, meaning that every game will have some involvement with this revolutionary new system.
How does it work?
Well, when a play is called, the video referee will initiate a live video overlay of the field, and the decision-making process will be open to review. Once a call is made, the officials can take time to discuss the decision with the video referee, and make any necessary adjustments. The video referee’s decisions are then written into the official record, and the game can continue.
This means that wrong decisions that were previously inconsequential, such as the aforementioned score of 0-0 from a nil game, will become points of controversy, potentially leading to penalties, and even the potential for a comeback.
It’s difficult to put into words the excitement that this new technology brings. The potential for error reduction is endless, and it will revolutionize the way we watch and interact with our favorite sport. Let’s take a quick look at how VAR can help promote better officiating, and ultimately lead to increased scoring:
Reduced Error Rates
When an error-free game is the norm, it’s the exception rather than the rule when an error occurs. In the upcoming seasons, we will see VAR used at both ends of the field, meaning that all players on the field will have access to video review, and therefore extra eyes on the field. This can only lead to fewer errors, and more accurate calls.
It’s well-known that the officials in any sport are under a lot of pressure, and make many hasty decisions. This can lead to obvious errors that are then magnified due to the importance of the game. VAR will take some of that stress away, allowing better decisions, and higher-quality football. Let’s also remember that many sports around the world use VAR, so it’s certainly not a uniquely Australian invention.
Penalties And Comebacks
In the right situation, video review can even lead to a comeback – a win by the team that was previously down. While we’ve seen this happen on smaller pitches across the country, it’s usually restricted to extra-time or golden-point situations. The potential to go to the well-deserved whistle and then see the other end kicked an unexpected goal is so exciting!
However, there is also the potential for some pretty serious penalties to be assessed. We’ve already seen this happen in the NFL (American Football League) where a series of pass interference penalties have been called, and eventually led to a loss of 23-0. VAR means that these kinds of mistakes will not only be scrutinized by the officials, but they will also have the immediate opportunity to assess the correct call before the game continues. These are the kinds of mistakes that could end careers, so caution needs to be taken whenever VAR is used.
One of the things that makes the Australian Football League so great is the fact that it’s one of the few sports that still uses the old-fashioned way to determine a winner. In others, like the NFL, the game is often decided by whoever scores the most points in the final minutes of the game. While this may be exciting to watch as a fan, it also leads to a lot of nail-biting towards the end of games – especially tight, low-scoring affairs. With VAR, there will be no more nil games, as every call will be examined, and either correct, or at least considered by the officials. This means that more goals will be scored, more frequently, and pretty soon, we’ll all be running down to the park to see which team can put the most points on the board.
This could lead to a massive shift in the way we look at football. Instead of a score at the end of the game, we’ll start seeing more emphasis placed on how many goals were actually scored. While there is some risk associated with increased scoring, there is also the opportunity to make the game more exciting, and closer-fought. Let’s honor AFL as it is, and embrace the fact that even the smallest game can end in one of the most exciting matches you’ll ever see.