NKARENG MATSHE | Despite high costs, VAR's implementation in SA a priority

Lack of system in domestic league has refs in back foot

Nkareng Matshe Sports editor
Referee Jelly Chavani during the DStv Premiership match between Moroka Swallows and Mamelodi Sundowns at Dobsonville Stadium on April 2024 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Referee Jelly Chavani during the DStv Premiership match between Moroka Swallows and Mamelodi Sundowns at Dobsonville Stadium on April 2024 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Image: Lefty Shivambu

You know the PSL season has reached a critical stage when coaches complain incessantly about refereeing decisions, and the situation is not about to ease up.

In the last two weeks, there have been no fewer than five coaches – Ernst Middendorp, Jose Riveiro, Saed Ramovic, Pablo Franco and Rulani Mokwena – screaming like mad men at microphones, decrying decisions by match officials and throwing in conspiracy theories in the process.

It is evident that our referees are not good enough, but more importantly, they are human and therefore prone to an error or two. That is why after heated debates, even world governing body Fifa relented on its previous stance of not using TV reviews for contentious decisions.

As Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has now become a must for most competitive leagues and competitions, including the Fifa World Cup, it is inevitable the PSL will have to follow suit sooner rather than later. The outcry of coaches is not about to abate, even as Safa head of referees Abdul Ebrahim dismissed this as mere scapegoating.

The reality is, referees’ decisions have far-reaching ramifications which at times can affect collective livelihoods. A questionable penalty, such as the one which won Sundowns the match against Cape Town Spurs, leading to Middendorp’s outburst, should easily be referred to VAR to establish certainty.

We know PSL and Safa authorities have haggled over the costs associated with implementing VAR in domestic football, but to circumvent this, it can be done in phases. Let’s start with cup finals, for instance. CAF did it in phases for the Champions League, bringing it in for the knockout stage three years ago, and it proved pivotal.

In fact, CAF got rave reviews for its exemplary usage of VAR at the Africa Cup of Nations finals in January. Almost all decisions reviewed by the system at the Nations Cup brought about consensus, something unheard of elsewhere.

The absence of VAR in domestic football has obviously left a vacuum which is now filled with assumptions and unnecessary hyperbole as teams look for excuses, as highlighted by Ebrahim. Take the noise made by Ramovic, of TS Galaxy, who claimed his team had had a referee appointed to the club’s four matches in succession, only to find he was mistaken.

Sundowns’ Mokwena railed at Jelly Chavani after the referee overturned his assistant’s decision in the match against Moroka Swallows this week, intimating that there must be a "hidden VAR" specifically to look at decisions involving Sundowns.

Perhaps Mokwena has a case because in their match against Polokwane City, a penalty was overturned after it had been given, similar to this week when Chavani overruled his assistant’s decision to disallow Gabadinho Mhango’s goal for offside.

VAR would go some way in avoiding all this type of innuendo. Yes, the full system is costly, but if it’s possible for a match official to look at the broadcaster’s screen on the touchline and advise the on-field referee on the call – as intimated by Mokwena when he asked “who was Chavani talking to?” – why not start there? An arrangement like that would be a perfect start, and it’s not improbable because all PSL matches are now broadcast.

Of course, all this is for Safa, as people responsible for match officials, to discuss with the PSL and find common ground. The last we heard was that the two organisations were in consultation over the possible implementation of VAR. That was two years ago and, as they dilly-dally, match officials are facing immense pressure, criticism and scrutiny from which they will not escape.  


Would you like to comment on this article?
Register (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.