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Peter Walton: VAR is not there to get every decision 100 per cent correct - Premier League fans need to understand that

As VAR arrives in the Premier League, BTSport.com sits down with former referee Peter Walton to get the lowdown on all the burning questions on fans' lips.

After two-and-a-half years of testing, 69 FA Cup games and 29 Champions League knockout games, VAR has touched down in the Premier League

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In a bid to get up to speed with VAR, who better to ask than former Premier League referee and BT Sport's resident VAR expert, Peter Walton.

With VAR sure to be a hot talking point throughout the new season, BTSport.com sat down with Walton to get answers to all the main questions accompanying its implementation. 

Question: Will VAR be applied differently in the Premier League compared to the Champions League?

Peter Walton: Yes. There will be interpretation of handball, for example.

The Premier League have already said that they feel their referees have interpreted the law as it is written correctly in the past and don’t see a need to change that.

Whereas we have already seen last season in the Champions League that the law as it is written is much more strictly applied and VAR is used in conjunction with that.

So we will see a different interpretation on Wednesday nights and Saturday nights for handball.

Q: So we won’t have instances like the penalties given against Danny Rose and Presnel Kimpembe in the Champions League knockout stages?

PW: That is correct.

My understanding from the Premier League is that they don’t see the need to adjust their interpretation of handball, even with the introduction of VAR.

Q: What about goalkeepers’ positioning for penalties? The Women’s World Cup produced a number of controversial moments on that front...

PW: Again, the Premier League have already said that the movement of a goalkeeper during a penalty kick will be left to the on-field match officials to detect and discipline as necessary.

They will not be going to VAR for advice on it.

Q: We’ve become increasingly familar with the VAR booth, otherwise known as the Referee’s Review Area (RRA). Will it be used in the Premier League?

PW: It will be available to Premier League referees but it will be used to the bare minimum – if at all.

The Premier League have said that when a VAR gives advice to the match referee, he or she will take it as gospel and should have no requirement to go over to the monitor and check for themselves.

The reason behind that is because the Premier League want interference to the flow of the game to be minimised.

Also, the trust in the VAR’s interpretation is such that they believe that every referee would see it the same.

Q: Is there a time limit for reviews? If not, isn’t there a risk that the flow of the game could be impacted?

PW: First of all, the protocol for VAR is to come to the correct decision.

That’s the first point and that’s what we should all have in our minds. VAR is there to make sure that, factually, the right decision is arrived at.

Now, if you layer on how long it takes to do that, there is no time target in the VAR protocol – they could take an hour if they wanted to.

However, if you layer on the words ‘clear and obvious’, if you have to look at a decision and you need to look at an incident more than three times, it probably isn’t clear and obvious - so you would leave it alone.

By following the due process, the amount of time it will take to come to a decision will be minimal - we’re probably talking no more than 40 to 60 seconds.

That time could even be reduced in the Premier League because referees are not required to go over to the RRA and make the decision themselves.

I believe we won’t even see it in every game.

In America in the MLS, a formal review where something is overturned occurs once in every three games.

We won’t be going over to the monitor, we won’t be seeing people stopping the game to have a formal review very much at all.

People have got this misconception that the game’s going to be stopped every five minutes. Well, it’s not!

Q: What will constitute clear and obvious?

PW: [Laughs] Clear and obvious will be different to every person.

But I believe clear and obvious in this case will be when a room full of people all come to the same conclusion.

Q: So there will still be a level of subjectivity?

PW: VAR is not there to get every decision 100 per cent correct – and that’s something the public must realise as well.

It’s not there to create this pure game of football. It is there to adjudicate on the four game-changing instances that either the officials have missed or where he or she has made a clear and obvious error.

Q: You’ve mentioned ‘checks’ and ‘reviews’. What’s the difference?

PW: When one of the four qualifying instances occur – goals scored, mistaken identity, penalties or sending-off offences – VAR will be automatically checking it, just to make sure everything’s okay.

That will be going on in the background all the time and the referee doesn’t need to know that – he or she can continue to officiate the game in front of them.

It is only when the VAR detects a clear error or a missed error that it will be communicated back down to the ref.

You see players saying to the referee “have you checked it?!” but what people need to understand is that everything is checked as the game progresses. Nothing is missed.

That’s why we have an AVAR (assistant video referee). We have a VAR who looks at the play in real time, then if he or she detects something, then you need an extra pair of eyes watching the game as the check goes on.

Q: Do you think there’s a risk that VAR will undermine referees' authority on the pitch?

PW: When I was refereeing, if there was any technology available that could help me come to the correct decision I was all for it.

Having said that, nobody wants to be shown as being wrong in their judgment. It’s a human trait.

So I actually think the introduction of VAR will make referees much more focussed than they were in the past.

They don’t want their decisions on the field of play overturned, or an incident they haven’t seen given, because there’s a personal pride involved.

Q: There are still question marks around how to make sure fans are kept involved when VAR is in action. How will reviews and decisions be communicated and is there room for improvement?

PW: The lawmakers, IFAB, are actively pursuing better communication to all stakeholders, because what we’ve seen in the past in the Champions League is that fans don’t want to be left waiting. They want to be engaged as well.

I believe the Premier League are looking into that but I don’t think they are quite ready at this moment in time.

We will still have people saying “well, I didn’t know what was going on” and that is an ongoing issue.

VAR is evolving and part of that evolution is to include much better communication.

How we do that, of course, is down to each individual league and governing body.

But I would like to see some audio communication in the stadium, be it the fourth official, or the VAR itself announcing what the issue was and what they’re looking for.

I’d like to see graphical screens put up to show what incident they’re looking at and why they’re looking at it.

That will give fans the engagement to say whether they agree or disagree.

Q: Two of the biggest teams in the Premier League, Manchester United and Liverpool, are both without big screens. Are you anticipating issues there?

PW: You’re right to ask that question, because how are they going to communicate it at Anfield and Old Trafford?

That’s where the thinktank needs to get together because not every ground has these big screens.

If we’re going to use graphics then maybe we need to supplement it with more audio description as well.

But I’m sure the Premier League are working hard to figure that out.

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