Almost two thirds of fans oppose VAR, according to survey of 9,645 supporters
VAR has been given a massive thumbs-down in a new fans’ survey published on Wednesday.
Almost two thirds (63.3 per cent) of supporters said they oppose the use of VAR, with only 26.8 per cent saying they were absolutely or somewhat in favour of it. The National Supporters Survey was commissioned by the Football Supporters’ Association and covered 9,645 fans, running online in March and April.
Only one in 20 (5.5 per cent) of fans who had experienced the technology being used in stadiums rated their experience of it as good or very good.
The survey also found overwhelming support for the introduction of an independent regulator for English football, with 88.2 per cent of those surveyed agreeing on the need for the regulator to ensure the game is run more sustainably.
The negativity towards VAR in 2023 contrasts with the 2017 FSA survey – prior to VAR’s introduction – which found 74.6 per cent of fans favoured the use of video referees to support on-field officials with game-changing decisions.
More than three quarters of match-goers (79.1 per cent) and two thirds of TV viewers (65.4 per cent) now rate their experience of VAR as either poor or very poor.
Almost 92 per cent said decisions were taking too long to make, while 80 per cent said fans should be able to hear discussions between the VAR and the on-pitch referee.
Referees’ chief Howard Webb is determined to provide greater transparency around VAR in the English game, within the bounds of what is allowed by the laws of the sport.
He appeared on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football programme on May 15 to talk through how a number of decisions from earlier in the season had been made, and often how complex these decisions can be and why time is needed to ensure accuracy.
He also pointed out that, under the game’s current laws, the conversations between referees and VARs cannot be broadcast live.
FIFA trialled a system where referees communicated the final outcome of VAR decisions to fans in the stadium and those watching on television at the Club World Cup in February, and is considering continuing the trial at this summer’s Women’s World Cup.
While Webb’s MNF appearance was a one-off for last season, it is understood this could become a more regular feature next season. Professional Game Match Officials Limited is also in ongoing dialogue with FSA representatives.
The existing guidelines for VAR decisions state that communication to fans in stadia will take place when there is a delay in play caused by VAR, or an overturned decision.
The intention is to minimise disruption to a match whilst keeping fans informed. Graphics will be displayed on giant screens in stadia (or where there is no giant screen, via a combination of PA announcements and scoreboard displays) to explain any delay in play. Video clips will also be shown for decisions overturned by the VAR.
Fan support for independent regulation was overwhelming, with almost nine in 10 supportive of such a body being established.
Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said earlier this month that the Government’s consultation response on the White Paper for football governance would be published this summer, but it is not expected that a regulator backed by statute could be up and running until the 2024-25 season at the earliest.
Fans clearly feel the need for action on the way the game is run, with only 37.8 per cent saying they felt optimistic about the future of football.
FSA chairman Malcolm Clarke said: “Football has said for years that it can regulate itself. The findings from our survey show that it has become apparent to the overwhelming majority of fans that it cannot, and that independent regulation is required to safeguard the future of our clubs, and the game itself.
“Football clubs can’t continue to be allowed to mark their own homework, and so we will be pressing the Government to make sure what the regulator laid out in their White Paper becomes a reality.”
Fans are also concerned about the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.
One in five (21.7 per cent) fans said they were attending fewer games because of the rising cost of living, and almost a third – 31.9 per cent – had reduced their matchday spending on items such as food, drink and programmes.
The Premier League announced earlier this month that attendances hit a record average in 2022-23 – 40,267 compared to 39,950 in 2021-22. Stadium utilisation rates were also up from 97.7 per cent in 2021-22 to 98.7 per cent in 2022-23.
The survey also found nine in 10 supporters favoured an away fan price-cap in the EFL following the announcement of its new record television deal with Sky Sports.