Are referees really necessary?

Virtual referees can improve fairness in sports


Aaron Sholl / CC BY 2.0

After calling a foul and giving a yellow card, the referee writes down the name of the guilty Los Angeles Galaxy player.

Has there ever been a perfect game of a sport that was called by the referees fairly, 100 percent of the time? It is very unlikely that it has happened, but using new technology and implementing it in the modern sports world today could make sports games perfectly fair more often, with the help of virtual referees, known as V.A.R.

According to Sports Performance Analysis, “A referee in a match of football has full authority to enforce the Laws of the Game, consequently being exposed to controversies when it comes to interpreting a given situation. This risk is evidenced when considering that the referee’s observation can be influenced by various factors: position on the field (i.e. being prone to a parallax errors; the deceptive change in the relative position of an object with a change in the position of the observer) and the frequent high ball speeds, particularly during shots on goal that can reach up to 120 kilometers per hour, thus make it is challenging for the human vision and other cognitive systems to estimate its position.”

This example of V.A.R. is used in Premier League Soccer, and it benefits all teams in matches that are played. The Premier League is attempting to implement V.A.R. in every match between teams across the league. V.A.R., which stands for Virtual Assistant Referee, is a computer A.I. that observes the field of play and what the players do. The A.I. assistant has the ability to review calls, and make sure that the call is the right one. The system is used in many sports, like soccer, football and baseball.

The newer technology could eventually replace in-person referees in the near future. At some sporting events, fans will complain heavily about certain calls that the referee makes, especially the most controversial ones. With V.A.R., the chances of controversial calls will be minimized, and sports fans will be happier throughout the match. V.A.R. needs to be implemented in every match played in sports to make matches more fair so less people would be upset.

While in-person referees are traditional and can still be very accurate with calling games, V.A.R will substantially increase the call accuracy, even as an assistant to the referees. Eventually the in-person referees should be replaced with V.A.R. since the technol-
ogy is more accurate, and more importantly, more accurate with the right calls. If the calls are more accurate, then the game will be popularly perceived as a fair match. Sports fans will be happier with the matches that their favorite teams play in, and in-person referees will no longer be looked down upon for certain controversial calls.