Should Hong Kong Premier League Implement VAR?

Video Assistant Referee technology (VAR) stunned the globe for its official debut in 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. The implementation of this advanced technology minimized the controversy from referees’ decisions in the field. with the help of VAR, 29 penalty spot kicks were awarded in Russia, increasing the penalty record by 12 in a single tournament.

Founded in 2014, Hong Kong Premier League grows up to the top-level football league of Asia with ten clubs’ rivalry. Should the league implement the hit technology at this time when there is a trend of integration between modern football and cutting-edge digital methods?

What is VAR

VAR is a kind of new technology conducted by a bunch of people in a video analysis center. Those people use video footages and a headset for communication to review the controversial decisions by the head referee and inform the referee in the field whether a revised decision is needed. Only four types of calls can be reviewed, which are Goals, Penalty Decisions, Direct Red Card Incidents and Mistaken Identity.

VAR Implementation around HK

Before 2018 World Cup, lots of football leagues and Cups initiated to add VAR into the match. Chinese Football Association Super League(CSL), K-League in South Korea and A-League in Australia acted as a pioneers to implement VAR, prior to other leagues in Asia-Pacific. However, the implementation of VAR in the leagues above was not so integrated as their mature system. The latency of communication between the head referee and the video analysis center interrupted the match for several minutes. Australian media described VAR in A-League as “Messy and Divisive”. The emerging technology in football field is facing a dilemma between cleaning the match and keeping the normal flow of the match.

Feasibility to Implement VAR in HK

“VAR implementation will benefit the attacking football and accelerate the attacking tempo.” Tommy Leung, assistant professor at Department of Economics in Wake Forest University and former assistant professor at CUHK, said in his personal column. Strikers might not get many “physical cares” like slide tackles in the penalty area since any foul tends to be transparent under the monitor of VAR. “Accelerating attacking tempo brings more goals and will attract more fans to enjoy the match.” Leung said.

Hong Kong Premier League remains the original referee system without any assistant technology although VAR has been proven as an accelerator of attacking tempo and a driver of audience’s attention in 2018 FIFA World Cup. Besides VAR, Goal-line technology, which helped the referee to precisely decide whether there is goal when it is hard to identify a goal physically, has not applied in the league yet. The scale of Hong Kong Premier League does not reach to as large as those in Mainland China, South Korea and Australia with the limitation of territory and fund even if it forms a mature league system. About 20 million yuan were invested to implement VAR in CSL, including additional fees of more cameras in the fields and other professional equipment and patent charge from FIFA. High expense of importing VAR to Hong Kong Premier League could discourage the momentum of expansion for a young league with only 10 clubs, based on few wrong decisions from referees and rare requirements for VAR from the audience.

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A goal was not counted by the head referee in the rivalry between Chinese Hong Kong and China at Mong Kok Stadium in 2018 FIFA Asian Qualification (Source: IFENG)

Future of VAR in Hong Kong

Whether a football league or tournament should implement or keep VAR remains a fierce dispute around the world. Some people criticize this technology breaks the flow of the match, challenges the authority of referees and eliminates the beauty of unpredictability and controversy in football matches. “Minimum interference for maximum benefit.” VAR strives for the fairness of football matches and make the players’ efforts paid off by increasing the accuracy of referees’ decisions to 99.3%. Hong Kong Premier League should take the dilemma into consideration in whether VAR should keep the pace with football matches when the league have enough fan base and top-level competence requiring advanced technology to comply with the development and expansion, as other great leagues in Asia.