Bournemouth, victimized by a colossal VAR/Hawk-Eye error, deserves compensation

If there’s one factor above all others that thoroughly incenses me about VAR, it’s this business of dictatorial offside decisions based on millimetric measurements.

From guide to how VAR uses Hawk-Eye to make offside decisions.

However technically (read microscopically) correct they may be, they offend. First because they are beyond human scope to record, meaning that the sport is being handed over to computers, and how good an idea can that be? Second because it is so glaringly obvious that such invisible distances can have no effect whatever on the course of the game.

So, when a player’s big toe is offside (yes, it gets that inane) he is “interfering with play” in some massively crucial way that would not have been the case had his toe been a millimeter further back.

No one dare argue with such accuracy. Science has spoken. The decision is compliantly accepted when it is really the sort of nonsense that deserves to be ridiculed.

Now, there comes a rare opportunity to let fly with some ridicule. VAR has goofed. Whoopee, the arrogant perfectionists have been caught with their pants down. I’m hoping they will get punished -- and in the process taken down a peg or two -- but I suspect they’ll wriggle out of this mess.

Here’s how they messed up during an English Premier League game on June 17 between Aston Villa and Sheffield United -- a ghost game with no spectators.

During frantic first-half goalmouth action, Aston Villa goalkeeper Orjan Nyland clearly carried the ball over the line and into his own goal. The replays made it unarguable: goal to Sheffield. But play continued. Referee Michael Oliver did not signal a goal. And, to utter bewilderment, VAR did not intervene.

Shortly after the game, though, Hawk-Eye -- the video system that VAR uses to record everything in sight -- was heard from. Hawk-Eye had to admit that, despite its seven cameras (right, SEVEN) positioned around the goalmouth, not one of them had come up with a clear view of the incident. There were apparently too many players in the way. Never happened before in over 9,000 games.

Possible, I suppose, but as an excuse it sounds a bit far-fetched when you consider that regular TV (which certainly wouldn’t have had as many of seven cameras around the goal mouth) immediately came up with a very clear replay of the incident.

Hawk-Eye’s explanation quickly turned into an abject apology: “Hawk-Eye apologizes unreservedly to the Premier League, Sheffield United and everyone affected by this incident.”

The game ended 0-0, meaning that Villa, in danger of relegation, had eked out a valuable point. As it happened, at season’s end that single point was what saved Villa from relegation -- giving them 35 points, whereas Bournemouth with only 34 points went down.

That certainly gave Bournemouth food for thought. The point that saved Villa (and condemned Bournemouth) had resulted from the VAR gaffe. Bournemouth was now definitely at the head of those “affected by this incident.”

The club is considering legal action against Hawk-Eye for compensation. The reasoning is logical, but it involves a couple of significant “ifs.”

It goes like this: Villa picked up a point for tying Sheffield 0-0. But Sheffield was denied a legitimate goal by the VAR error. So, IF the goal had been allowed, and IF the game had finished as a 1-0 win for Sheffield, then Aston Villa and Bournemouth would each have ended the season with 34 points, but Bournemouth would have moved above Villa because of a superior goal-difference (-25 to Villa’s -27). Bournemouth would have held on to its Premier League status, while Villa would have been doomed to the drop.

Bournemouth will know that its chances of regaining EPL status are close to zero. No sport is going to re-adjust its standings on the basis of what might have happened. The fear of setting a precedent that would produce an avalanche of demands to replay games, or adjust scorelines, is surely justified.

But it is possible that Hawk-Eye is vulnerable to pay compensation (the financial loss of being excluded from the EPL is considerable) - not least because it has publicly admitted its error, plus that apology to “everyone affected by this incident.”

My feeling is that Bournemouth will probably decide that challenging Hawk-Eye (and implicitly the whole FIFA-backed VAR system) is a long-shot that is simply not worth the effort.

Which is understandable though -- seen selfishly -- disappointing. I would be greatly pleased to see VAR hoist with its own petard of relying on small measurements -- not unseen millimeters in this case, but just a slight variation in goal-differences.

I have a nice rose-colored version of what might happen. First, an out-of-court financial settlement. Then, as my fantasizing balloons, a rewriting of the offside rule, requiring clear daylight between defender and attacker before a call is made, and then a repentant VAR graciously admitting that it had been behaving idiotically in dealing with millimeters.

I’ll admit I don’t expect my wishful thinking to get too far. But I wish Bournemouth luck, should they decide to seek compensation from Hawk-Eye, VAR and the rest of the millimetric mob. Bournemouth has been victimized -- by the sport it supports. It deserves better.

13 comments about "Bournemouth, victimized by a colossal VAR/Hawk-Eye error, deserves compensation".
  1. T. Michael Flinn, July 30, 2020 at 10:07 a.m.

    Atlanta United was victimized with a similar minute offside in the MLY Tourney in Orlando.

  2. Wallace Wade, July 30, 2020 at 10:18 a.m.

    Technically correct, however, this doesn't stand a chance in any court of law. 

  3. beautiful game replied, July 30, 2020 at 2:10 p.m.

    Are you referring to the FIFA court of public opinion? 

  4. frank schoon, July 30, 2020 at 10:18 a.m.

    The problem is that the VAR has it's own deficiencies and weaknesses and therefore this system likewise will add to confusion and discussions on certain calls. So those who think the VAR has improved fail to see that carries its own bagage and problems to the system....Nothing can strife to perfection in a system.  Sooner or later there will always  arguments on questionable calls on plays  regardless of the VAR.
    Just about every corner ever taken  so many fouls could be called as penalties  but rarely happens  even with the VAR present.

  5. beautiful game replied, July 30, 2020 at 11:58 a.m.

    VAR failures have reached ad nauseam. Shame on FIFA for its dereliction in not reinventing the Off-side Law with "clear daylight" between the offensive and defensive players. VAR has proven that common sense takes a back seat to technical assistance. FIFA experimentation with VAR in 2017/2018 is a haunting failure in a rush to give soccer more transparency on the pitch. The volume of failed VAR decision-making making process is a calamity. I remember Ken Jennings, king of the Jeopardy TV game show, competing against a computer IBM Blue several years ago. IBM Blue buzzed in first to answer the question over 90% of the time. Yet, both the computer and Jennings gave wrong answers each on one occasion during the contest. In the latter instance, if Blue had elements of human response timing, technology would be more  palatable. VAR has become a repetitive howler.

  6. Peter Bechtold, July 30, 2020 at 11:35 a.m.

    Paul, et al.: We should distinguish between the VAR as generalized in your essay and the comments, and the VAR as used in the EPL, which is BY FAR the worst that I have seen thus far.
    Apparently, the EPL system is the only one whereby the CR does not approach the sideline VAR monitor and check for himself. Remember the 2018 WC in Russia where the VAR system worked in superior fashion: Clear off-sides were caught and foul calls were corrected or confirmed. Watching Serie A, the Bundesliga and MLS, they are not perfect but clearly better than the EPL application, and also clearly better than relying on the old system before use of technology.
     I cannot imagine that the CR in the above-cited cases would not have reversed the decision, had he used the global system of being alerted to check, and then seen for himself.

    The legal pursuit is another matter: You or we cannot proof that Sheffield would have won 1-0 had the correct call been made. With A.Villa behind, they had time to become more offensive with plays/ substitutes; they might have tied up the match, or not.

  7. frank schoon replied, July 30, 2020 at 12:26 p.m.

    Peter , You're right about the success in Russia but that only means the VAR had not come across a situation where it is called in question to a particular situation. It only occurs from time to time

  8. Paul Cox, July 30, 2020 at 11:37 a.m.

    To say that anyone deserves compensation because HawkEye missed a goal is utterly ridiculous.

    Mistakes are made. Part of the game.

    Do you think any referee, being told he might be liable for tens of millions of dollars in compensation due to a team being relegated if he misses a call?

    Especially when his VIEW of the incident is blocked by another player?

    HawkEye has seven cameras and the huge majority of the time- thousands of games, after all- it has a clear enough view of the ball. It's plainly a superior system to only relying upon the referee and AR, after all.

    (Who, it should be noticed, had their views similarly blocked by the players' bodies and the post- and thus were also unable to make the call!)

    No, this is ridiculous, and Paul Gardner has certainly enough experience to know this. 

  9. Kent James, July 30, 2020 at 4:56 p.m.

    PG, I understand your frustration when VAR calls back a goal because someone was offside by a toe.  But you give away the game when you point out that FIFA could fix the problem by having the standard daylight between the torsos of the players.  The problem is not the enforcement of the law (VAR), it's the law.  You say a big toe being offside does not give a player a sufficient advantage to warrant a call. I agree.  But what about half a foot?  The entire foot?  A leg when he's on the outside of the defender?  It gets complicated.  

  10. Kent James, July 30, 2020 at 5:01 p.m.

     I know there are a lot of people who don't like VAR (I'm looking at you, PG), but I am in favor of anything that can help referees call a game more accurately. 

    I watched two games recently where VAR was used to good effect. The first was Arsenal v. Watford (with Watford fighting to avoid relegation). Early in the game, ball flighted into the box, the center back for Watford goes into the back of Lacazette. In real time, I thought it was a foul, but being in the box on a header, such fouls are often not called. The announcers did not even mention the contact. On replay, it was clearly a foul; the CB put his shoulder into the middle of Lacazette's back, even before the ball was there. One of the announcers, who had played as a CB, said (after seeing the slow motion replay) there was "not much in it". I guess CB's have a higher bar for "physical play" than most of us...

    Anyway, the referee delayed the restart for about a minute, and then indicated a penalty (due to VAR). Arsenal ended up winning the game 3-2 (and Watford was relegated).  So that clumsy defending PG rightfully complains about was punished by VAR.

    The second game was an MLS game between LAFC and Houston. Houston had a headed goal called offside in real time (it was a very tight call). After review, which required the center to go over to look at a video, the goal was given. It took a little longer (because the referee had to go to the sideline), but certainly less than 2 minutes (and he made the decision quite quickly). The game ended 3-3. 

    So while it seems like VAR is often calling back nice goals for offside, sometimes VAR does increase scoring (and that does not include all the times an AR does not raise the flag for offside when they might have previously since now if it's close, they're supposed to let play continue). So while there are kinks that need to be worked out, I think overall, VAR enhances the game.

  11. R2 Dad, July 30, 2020 at 11:47 p.m.

    In the graphic above, there is a white circle at the location of the offiside infraction. But to freeze a frame to determine this gives lie to the other end of the action, where the ball is kicked. VAR wants to declare there is a single moment when the ball is kicked, but in reality that moment is actually a couple moments as the ball is on the foot and leaving. Clear and Obvious has been ignored, and FIFA should decide a procedure to be followed for top leagues and the World Cup. Right now there is too much variance in the system to produce the accuracy they imply. A band of space, a neutral zone of about 4 inches, is needed to encompass the uncertainty involved.Otherwise, all those FIFA refs will have to continue to be infallible, which they are not.

  12. Grant Goodwin, July 31, 2020 at 10:35 a.m.

    The referees need to take responsibility and have some accountability in all of this.  It is not necessarily that VAR has failed, but more like those that "interpret" it.  Sometimes common sense needs to be used by the refs instead of referring to technology as the answer.

  13. Michael Saunders, August 4, 2020 at 3:39 p.m.

    As the article indicates there are two technologies in football that were supposed to ensure that missing a goal are avoided: (1)  Hawkeye which automatically tells the referee via a signal to a special receiver on his/her  person (watch) that the whole of the ball crossed the line (2) The VAR which is supposed to review goal / no goal decisions as it is a critical game decision.  

    As was made clear, the Hawkeye technology failed as it is fully automated while the VAR team did not intervene as the system calls for human interpretation.     

    So I am sure we all agree that statistically speaking nothing is 100%, but especially so with technology.  Not sure why Hawkeye missed this one, but it did.  Indeed, in ice hockey goal reviews have a higher propensity to not be able to make a decision based on the size of the puck and the number of bodies around the goal; and frankly they have yet to devise a way to see under a GK's pad. As such, we can safely assume that the Hawkeye technology either had a tech failure or body(s) were in such a position to not be able to make a conclusive call.

    The lack of a VAR review is the question that needs to be answered.  My gut tells me is that the VAR team, ASSUMED that the Hawkeye technology was working and opted not to do so, even though it is part of their remit .... or ... did the referee overrule the call for a VAR review?  .... 

    As they say ship happens. In this case it hit the fan. ...   Bottom line:  The process needs to be reviewed. 



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