Vietnamese football needs good referees more than video assistance


While the use of Video Assistance Referee (VAR) will help fairer adjudication, the V. League needs better manual refereeing.

The Vietnam Professional Football Jointstock Company (VPF) has announced the use of VAR in Vietnam’s V. League 1 starting June, when the second leg of the nation’s top professional football league starts.

However, due to budgetary and other limitations, the technology will be installed in vans and moved from one game to another. A maximum of three matches per round will have use of this technology.

VAR has been developed to ensure greater transparency and fairness in football matches. It acts like the “third eye” of the main referee, because it can see the situation from different angles. It can be particularly useful for crucial decisions like penalties, offside goals, red cards and handballs.

However, the role of the VAR is not as crucial as the referees on the field, because the final decision will always be made by the main referee. So having good referees who can control and manage the game well is very important. VAR is at best a tool that can assist and supplement the work of referees in the game.

In the V. League 1 matches, basic mistakes made by several Vietnamese referees include being in the wrong position that impedes better observation of a situation. Sometimes, they make wrong decisions even when they can see the situation clearly. The VAR cannot interfere in such instances.

After five rounds of V. League 1 2019, five referees were suspended for making mistakes. In a third round game between Hanoi FC and Viettel FC on March 6, referee Tran Dinh Thinh awarded Viettel a penalty in the 90th minute.

The Hanoi FC goalkeeper successfully blocked the penalty but he made a technical mistake, stepping out of the goal line to block the ball. However, referee Thinh didn’t let Viettel FC retake the penalty because he didn’t know the basic rules by heart.

In round five, a ridiculous incident occurred when referee Tran Trung Hieu was suspended for giving the red card to the wrong player in a match between Hai Phong FC and SHB Da Nang on April 14. It generated a lot of heat on the field, with Hai Phong FC players reacting to the referee with anger. Fortunately, the red card was given to the right player afterwards.

Hieu’s mistake was followed by several more from referees in other games, when many handballs were committed inside the box, but no penalty was awarded. These situations had very wide viewing angles, but the referees just skipped through them, not one, but two times in a game. As a result, these referees were suspended for the rest of the league’s first leg.

Such obviously absurd errors were typically brushed off as “identification mistakes.”

The VAR cannot be used to sort out every single situation on the field. There are many ways to ruin a game and most of the important ones typically come from the main referee.

In the top leagues the world over, before VAR came into play, even when the referee made mistakes leading to an unfair result, fans could believe, by and large, that the game was well-moderated and there were nothing subjective or biased about the wrong decisions.

But in Vietnam, fans are skeptical because the referees make wrong decisions frequently, and their mistakes are so basic and look deliberate, leading the game in a different direction. This stems from the low level of refereeing as well as work ethics.

Therefore, introducing VAR into V. League is a step in the right direction by the organizers, showing their commitment to enhancing quality. If the VAR had been applied earlier, the number of suspended referees might have reduced. But this should only be seen as a first step.

Fans cannot set their expectations too high, for now. Apart from the obvious limitations of its use, unlike leagues where the technology is available in every stadium, VAR can only be expected to improve the quality of refereeing and reduce “identification” errors.

But, even with a wider application of VAR in the future, success will depend on improved quality of the referees themselves. Increasing their professionalism and ethical standards will be the key to improving refereeing standards in Vietnam as well as the standard of the game played in the country.