VAR EXPLAINED : WHAT IS IT AND HOW DOES IT WORKS?

VAR, or Video Assisted Refereeing, is a technology that was originally developed by the Refereeing 2.0 project in 2010 and has been implemented in numerous football games. The term “VAR” stands for “Video Assistant Referee,” and it allows main referees to review certain events. VAR is a system that utilises video. Below is the explanation of how VAR works in football.

THE BASICS

VAR stands for video assistant referee. Instead of just one person, a team of three people work together to review decisions made by the main referee. They do this by watching video footage of the relevant occurrences. The team is made up of the main video assistant referee, who is typically a current or former referee, his assistant, and a replay operator. They are located in a video operation room that contains various monitors showing different camera angles.

VAR can be used to review four types of decision: goals and the violations that precede them, red cards, penalties, and mistaken identity when awarding a card. In some cases, a decision made by the main referee can be overturned; however, it must be a “clear and obvious error” for this to happen.

Typically, the process for reviewing a decision works in one of two ways: either the VAR team can recommend a review, or the main referee can request a review after making a decision. In the former situation, if the VAR decides that a clear error has been made, he or she must notify the main referee.

Once this has happened, the referee has three options: he can immediately overturn the decision based on the VAR’s advice, stick with their initial decision, or review the incident themselves on a monitor on the side of the pitch.

WHY DID THE PREMIER LEAGUE INTRODUCE IT?

Premier League officials may make mistakes or errors that might influence the outcome of a game.

People are more aware than ever before because of the power of technology, which enables them to see immediately on television or their phones if mistakes have been made. So why not utilise that technology to assist what’s going on out on the field?

In the 2019/20 season, before video assistant referee was created, the percentage of correct key match decisions was 82%. With the help of video assistant referees in 2020/21, it improved to 94%.

Over the course of 2019/20, over 2,400 incidents were checked and 109 VAR decisions were overturned, an average of an overturned decision every 3.5 matches.

WHO WAS INVOLVED IN THE DECISION TO INTRODUCE IT?

Football was the first sport to employ video assistant referees, which were permitted by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), which rules on the football’s Laws of the Game.

In July 2020, IFAB turned over the job of VAR to FIFA. The IFAB still works closely with FIFA, especially in terms of the VAR protocol, related laws, and qualification standards.

The decision to install VAR in the Premier League for 2019/20 and 2021/22 was made unanimously by all clubs.

WHO APPOINTS THE VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREES?

The Premier League uses VARs to determine a fair result. VARs are professional match officials that have been certified by PGMOL, the organisation behind Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL).

The VAR sits at the VAR Hub at Stockley Park, in west London, and has an Assistant VAR (AVAR) and a Replay Operator (RO).

HOW DOES IT WORK?

  1. Step One – Incident Happens: When an incident occurs, the referee either notifies the VAR or recommends that the incident be VAR checked by the referee.
  2. Step Two – Review and Advice by the VAR: The video is then studied by the VAR, who notifies the main referee via headset what the footage shows.
  3. Step Three – Decision or Action is Taken: Before making a decision, the referee can review the video footage on the pitch side screen. Alternatively, he can go with the advice of the VAR and take the appropriate action.

WHEN WILL VAR BE USED IN PREMIER LEAGUE MATCHES?

The VAR review is on the lookout for any abnormalities in the game. As previously said, there are four times when VAR can be utilised in a game. The first is goals and offences leading up to the goal; the second is offside penalty judgments and behaviours preceding the penalty; and the third is direct red card situations.

VAR is used only for “clear and obvious errors” or “serious missed incidents” in four match-changing situations: goals; penalty decisions; direct red-card incidents; and mistaken identity.

But factual decisions such as offsides, and the issue of whether a player is inside or outside the penalty area, are not subject to the “clear and obvious” test. 

If the VAR sees an error has been made in such a situation they will intervene, regardless of how marginal the decision is.

There is a high bar for the VARs to intervene on subjective decisions, to maintain the pace and intensity of matches.

Essentially, any serious foul play outside of the penalty box will not be reviewed unless they are in the build-up to a goal or penalty decision or are worthy of a red card.

WHAT QUALIFIES AS A “CLEAR AND OBVIOUS ERROR”?

In testing, there was no unanimity. Different VARs came up with different outcomes.

But the VAR should not be asking, “Do I think it’s right or wrong?” The question is, “Is what the match officials have done a clear and obvious error?”

There is a very high bar for that intervention.

DOES THE REFEREE CALL FOR VAR?

In most cases, the referee will inform the VAR that an incident should be reviewed. However, the VAR can also recommend to the referee that it should be looked at. As the VAR is only an advisory, the referee can choose whether to take their advice or ignore it.

They don’t have to check a decision, even if the VAR recommends that they do. Unless there is a “clear error” in the original decision, it cannot be overturned.

HOW ARE INCIDENTS REVIEWED?

Only the referee can review the Incidents? No, there are one of two ways to VAR reviews.

Firstly, the VAR can inform the main referee that there has been a clear error that does not require the referee to review the footage. Typically, this is something like a goal being scored when the player is offside.

The second is known as the on-field review where the VAR advises the referee to review the footage on a monitor on the side of the pitch. In both cases, the referee will notify the players by making a TV signal gesture before coming to a final decision. On average, there is an on-field VAR review in one of every three games.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A DECISION IS BEING REVIEWED?

When an incident needs to be reviewed, the VAR team examines the video and reports their findings to the referee through an earpiece. If this occurs, the referee will point to his ear or make the official VAR review sign to indicate that a decision is being reviewed. He may then either have a look at the event on the pitch side screen

WILL WE KNOW IF A DECISION IS BEING REVIEWED?

If the referee is in contact with the VAR he should point to his ear. However, this may not always be seen on television. An example of this is the 2018 England vs Tunisia game, where the Harry Kane penalty appeals were reviewed.

As the decision was made to not take action, the review was not communicated to the audience. According to the VAR, England made a foul in the build-up which made the penalty appeals void.

HOW LONG DOES A VAR HAVE TO FLAG UP AN INCIDENT THEY HAVE SPOTTED?

After an incident, the VAR can intervene until the next time the game restarts. For example, if an incident is spotted by the VAR and the ball goes out of play, they must communicate with the referee to stop the game until they have a VAR decision. If they fail to do this and the game is restarted, the decision cannot be overturned.

HOW LONG WILL A DECISION TAKE?

In 2019/20, the average delay to matches caused by VAR in the Premier League was 50 seconds.

CAN PLAYERS ASK FOR A DECISION TO BE CHECKED BY VAR?

No. In fact, yellow cards will be issued to players or club staff who aggressively make the VAR signal to a match official.

FROM WHAT POINT DOES THE VAR CHECK INCIDENTS LEADING TO A PENALTY OR GOAL?

The VAR will only check the attacking possession phase that led to the penalty or goal. 

The starting point will be limited to the immediate phase. The VAR may not go back to when the attacking team gained possession. 

The VAR will consider the ability of the opposing defence to reset, and the momentum of the attack.  

WHAT IS THE REFEREE REVIEW AREA (RRA)?

This is a screen by the side of the pitch at each stadium where the referee can view incidents if they choose. 

If the VAR’s advice falls within the referee’s range of expectation, he or she can make a final decision based on that information, without using the RRA. 

But where the information received from the VAR falls outside of the referee’s expectation range, or where there is a serious missed incident, the referee can use the RRA to assist with a final decision.

At the Premier League’s Annual General Meeting ahead of the 2020/21 season, Shareholders agreed to the increased use of the RRA, which will be used for subjective decisions in three key areas: goals; red cards; and penalty kicks.

WHAT HAPPENS IF AN INCIDENT OCCURS WHILE ANOTHER DECISION IS BEING REVIEWED?

It depends on the incidents and whether advantage is involved.

But an example occurred in the 2019 UEFA Nations League semi-final between Portugal and Switzerland.

Portugal were awarded a penalty at a time when the VAR was already reviewing an incident that had happened moments earlier in the other box, when Switzerland had been attacking.

On the advice of the VAR, the referee viewed Switzerland’s penalty appeal in the Referee Review Area (RRA) and changed his decision, awarding a spot-kick to Switzerland instead of Portugal.

This process would also be applied in the Premier League.

WILL ASSISTANTS STILL FLAG FOR OFFSIDE OR IS IT DECIDED ONLY BY VAR?

For clear offside decisions the assistant referee should flag immediately.

But when an immediate goal scoring opportunity is likely to occur and there is a tight, marginal offside call, the assistant referee should keep their flag down until the passage of play is completed.

Once the goal scoring opportunity is complete – either a goal is scored or the chance is gone – the assistant will then flag to indicate the initial offence. If a goal is scored the VAR will then review the offside judgement.

In both of these situations the referee should wait to blow the whistle until the immediate phase of play has ended.

When the VAR is involved in offside decisions, they will be making a factual call based on evidence from fully calibrated offside lines.

WHAT ABOUT OFF-THE-BALL INCIDENTS?

Direct red-card incidents and cases of mistaken identity are two of the four match-changing situations where the VAR may intervene in cases of “clear and obvious errors” or “serious missed incidents”, including when play is stopped.

However, the VAR has a short window to intervene on unseen incidents. 

The FA’s retrospective disciplinary process remains for incidents not captured by the match officials or VAR.

WHAT WILL THE VAR DO WHEN A PENALTY IS BEING TAKEN?

The VAR can intervene for a clear and obvious error by the on-field match officials relating to goalkeeper movement, a double touch by the penalty taker, feigning at the point of the kick, and encroachment that has a direct impact.

The 2020/21 protocol does not allow for tolerance levels, so if the goalkeeper saves a penalty and his foot is over the goal line then VAR will advise it is retaken.

If the goalkeeper is off his line and the ball hits the post or goes over, it won’t be retaken unless the ‘keeper has a material impact on the kick being missed.

For player encroachment in the box, it is now judged on any part of a player’s body that is on the ground when the kick is taken.

Therefore, if any part of the foot is on the penalty area or arc line it is encroachment. The player must still have a material impact on the outcome of the kick.

IN SUMMARY

VAR is now an important part of technology in football, with the referee able to reconsider incidents and overturn initial judgments. Video assistant referees are already in use in several European leagues, as well as the Premier League, Champions League, and Europa League.

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