EPL refs and VAR not good enough: Former refs' chief Keith Hackett

Ex-refs' chief blasts tech and handball rule, saying the game has lost the plot

Error-prone referees in the English Premier League are not good enough, VAR (video assistant referee) technology is not fit for purpose and the game has "lost the plot" over handball, former English referees chief Keith Hackett told Reuters.

A number of VAR rulings were disputed last weekend as Leeds United's Patrick Bamford had a goal ruled out for a T-shirt sleeve offside, while handball penalties given against Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers were criticised by pundits.

Hackett, an EPL referee until 1994, believes that while VAR needs to be examined, officials on the pitch need to look at themselves too.

"The standard of refereeing has fallen," Hackett, who was the general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOL), the body responsible for match officials in England, said in an interview.

"(The PGMOL) is run like an old boys' club now. There is no accountability... These guys are not amateurs, they are getting six-figure wages - you have to deliver.

"They are producing better referees in Europe. You get three or four key refereeing errors per weekend in the Premier League now, and even two or three in one game. The standard is not good enough."

During his time in charge of the PGMOL, Hackett was instrumental in the introduction of goal-line technology in the EPL.

VAR was brought into the league last season, but it remains unpopular with some English top-flight managers and fans alike.

Hackett believes VAR has many flaws, but its drawbacks start with the technology itself, which he says does not help officials as much as it should.

"We got VAR wrong from the word go," Hackett added. "With goal-line technology, for accuracy and speed of decision, cameras around each goal are operating at 500 frames per second. With VAR, the technology is operating at 50 frames per second. That is not enough.

"We should be talking to the manufacturers - the equipment has to be better."

How that equipment is being utilised, however, is doing more harm than good, according to Hackett, with dotted lines to determine an offside causing particular concern.

"With the Bamford scenario, you don't want a law that acts as a defender, helping to rule out goals," he said.

"Do away with the lines, and leave it in the hands of a well-trained VAR, as they do in the MLS (Major League Soccer). They don't have many controversies over there. Why are we making it too complex?

"The law has to change on offside. Give the benefit of the doubt to the attacker, rather than the defender, and write the law to accommodate that. If that means daylight between last defender and attacker, then so be it."

The handball rule has also become contentious. Nine handball penalties have been awarded in this season's EPL, compared to six in the entire 2017/18 campaign.

"When you start to penalise accidental handball, we have lost the plot," Hackett added.

"Handball should be deliberate to gain control, movement of hand to ball or to stop an attack. VAR is not at fault in this case, it is the laws."

Liverpool defender Joe Gomez, one of those who was penalised for handball penalties, had called for common sense, saying: "Putting your hands behind your back is not a natural way to defend."

Hackett feels there needs to be a review of the PGMOL. He said: "We are sanitising a match into a technical game. It is not about entertainment, it is not about flair. Make it less complicated and make VARs specialists, not just referees doing that job. Then we might see a difference." - REUTERS