VAR problems causing major headache for German soccer league
BERLIN (AP) — Accusations of manipulation and incompetence have dogged the Bundesliga’s trial of the video assistant referee this season, forcing the German soccer federation to act quickly to pacify angry team officials.
The DFB dismissed Hellmut Krug as head of its VAR project this week after tabloid claims he influenced two key decisions in a game between Schalke, his hometown club, and visiting Wolfsburg on Oct. 28.
Lutz Michael Froehlich, the head of the federation’s refereeing department, will take over.
Krug and Marco Fritz, the video assistant operating in Cologne that day last month, denied the allegations, and the DFB said it was impossible for supervisors to intervene during games. But the federation evidently felt a fresh start was needed after weeks of controversy since VAR started this season.
“The pilot phase of the video assistant has relentlessly exposed problems that have long existed in some areas and must now be finally resolved,” league president Reinhard Rauball said on Tuesday.
VAR was supposed to help referees avoid mistakes and ensure fairness in games, but even at the start there were technical problems that hindered video assistants’ ability to make the right calls in Cologne, where they sit for games.
Video assistants were forced to make offside decisions without the aid of computer-generated lines because of a flaw in the technology.
Not all video-assisted decisions have been clear-cut and there have been other controversies, too. Cologne felt particularly aggrieved over a goal scored by Borussia Dortmund in their game in September, awarded after video consultation despite referee Felix Brych blowing his whistle before the ball crossed the line - signaling a break in play.
Not using VAR has also led to anger and frustration. Stuttgart was the victim last Saturday, when Dzenis Burnic was sent off early in its 3-1 loss in Hamburg with his second yellow card. Referee Guido Winkmann acknowledged after the game that it was unjust decision.
“It’s a game-deciding decision after 12 minutes that’s totally false,” said Stuttgart coach Hannes Wolf, who blasted the video assistant’s inability to get involved. “The person in Cologne can’t say anything. I find that ridiculous, that there’s someone there professionally who’s not allowed say anything. It doesn’t make any sense.”
At the start of the season, the DFB said the technology was only to be used “when the referee on the pitch has made a clear wrong decision or missed a decisive incident” around goals scored, penalties or free kicks, or during substitutions.
Kicker magazine, however, reported that the federation wrote on Oct. 25 to the clubs saying VAR had also been used in other instances since the fifth round of games, a so-called “corrective course” over which the clubs had not been informed.
“The whole communication from the DFB is catastrophic at the moment,” Borussia Moenchengladbach sporting director Max Eberl said. “If you have a test phase and want to change the whole system, then that’s fair enough. But everyone should also know about it.”
Fans are also upset, frustrated by the breaks in games while referees consult monitors on the sidelines, then by goals reversed after celebrations, or other decisions going against their teams - even when the decisions are technically correct.
The DFB has had other problems with its referees, too. Manuel Graefe was reprimanded last week for making allegations of nepotism and a lack of transparency against Krug and Herbert Fandel, the chairman of the referees committee, when it came to selection for games.
“The two of them threw together the referee list how they wanted it,” Graefe told Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper in August.
Graefe stuck to his position last month, saying in a personal statement that he wanted more “justice and transparency” and that “the influence of Herbert Fandel and Hellmut Krug unfortunately still means the opposite.”
Now that Krug has been removed, the DFB hopes the attention will return to the soccer, though it will need to sort out the problems affecting VAR before that happens.
“Every product is only as good as how it is processed and communicated,” former referee Markus Merk said.