The Premier League took an unprecedented course of action following a hugely controversial incident in one Liverpool match earlier this season.
The Reds’ 2-1 defeat at Tottenham in September was tainted by Luis Diaz’s goal being incorrectly disallowed for offside, with the subsequent publication of VAR audio showing that the officials on duty erred in the communication process surrounding that decision.
The Times reported that, in the wake of that wholly preventable saga, EPL executives enlisted the help of two pilots from British Airways to speak with referees and advise them on how to adopt a more succinct and professional dialogue in assessing decisions referred to VAR.
One of the main grievances from the audio relating to the incident in north London was the shockingly informal nature of the conversation between the officials adjudicating on it.
During a 45-minute presentation, the pilots stressed the importance of keeping calm under pressure and drew comparisons between the two professions, noting how aviators filter out white noise on take-off and landing and refine communications with air traffic controllers.
That the Premier League felt a compulsion to bring in advisors from outside of football in an attempt to improve refereeing process is a welcome admission that things need to improve, but also a damning indictment of the standards of officiating at such a high level.
If pilots can exert extreme composure when dozens of lives are literally in their hands, it begs the question as to how referees at the peak of English football constantly seem to bumble their way through making a decision which the everyday TV viewer could probably call correctly.
The ‘pub chat’ nature of the dialogue over Diaz’s disallowed goal served only to compound the annoyance of Liverpool fans who’d justifiably felt cheated against Spurs, while also underlining why VAR audio should be publicly transmissible as a matter of course, not just for selected occasions.
Look at how efficiently the discussions between a rugby referee and their TMO generally run. The conversation is detached, objective and analytical, with viewers being given a transparent understanding of the decision-making process.
PGMOL chief Howard Webb has previously tried to shelter his officials behind the cloak of the rulebook not allowing for VAR dialogue to be heard in real-time. Perhaps it’s time to rip up that rule and improve trust from the public by removing that veil of secrecy.
We live in hope that the pilots’ presentation will result in an improvement to Premier League officiating, but we’ll only believe it once we see it consistently.