In an interview with the Corriere dello Sport, the famed retired referee, Paolo Casarin, warned that the advances of technology, specifically the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), could well mean the role of the traditional on-field referee is at risk of becoming obsolete. Casarin is quoted as saying, “An extremely important person explained to me that in a few years the referee, a character destined to disappear, will be replaced. I don’t want to be around that day.” Casarin, who has spent years studying the game and writing for Corriere della Sera or discussing it on Radio Uno, expanded on this insight in his recent column.
He detailed a grim prediction for the future of the game, hinting at a “genetic mutation” that will be complete: “In the future, ultra-professional football (about 3% of the total worldwide), will need more technology. The only demand on the referee will be to publicly communicate the work carried out by the VAR along with interventions of low difficulty. The effective time will exceed an hour thanks to fewer protests”.
Casarin also highlighted the trust that Italian football places in technology over people. The reference was towards how easily decisions such as millimetre offside calls and penalty decisions, uncovered by technology for the visiting team, are accepted without batting an eyelid. “People protest often against the referee without taking into account that the referee on the field sees like no one else, provided he is able to position himself at the right distance from the players and not up-close, who catches the anxiety of the two players, who can distinguish a guilty reaction from a normal physical clash. The VAR man first only sees many soulless pictures and often becomes a meticulous researcher of referee errors, almost wanting to replace him.”
However, even if this isn’t the end of referees as we know it, Casarin’s words echo the concerns about those present in the industry. Roberto Rosetti, president of UEFA’s Referee Committee, had raised similar fears a few months ago, “We lack referees. It is a problem of all countries. And going on like this, it will be a problem of the quality of refereeing.” Despite this, Rosetti had expressed some optimism around the VAR during the previous UEFA Champions League.
These views present a further point of debate about the growing influence of television on football and the protected status of the VAR booth compared to those on the field. Will we soon see people aspiring to become full-time VAR referees without ever having to step foot on the green pitch, which is increasingly being undermined by the relentless march of technology in sport?