Given the tribal and emotive nature of football, it should come as no surprise that the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) and its associated technology has become a hot and often controversial talking point.

However, many fans remain unsure about VAR and how it works, while the lack of consistency in terms of deployment has also proved highly confusing.

In this guide, we’re going to take a closer look at VAR while answering some of your most frequently asked questions. Hopefully, this will help you to understand VAR better and enjoy a far more enriching viewing experience when supporting your team!

What is VAR and How Does it Work?

As we’ve already touched on, VAR stands for ‘Video Assistant’ referee, and has been rolled out to help support on-field officials, review in-game decisions and make subsequent recommendations.

The VAR is essentially a qualified referee, who works alongside at least two colleagues and watches matches in real-time in a dedicated studio.

They have access to a huge number of screens and camera angles, constantly reviewing broadcast footage throughout the duration of a game.

The VAR will then be called upon to review specific incidents throughout the game. For example, goals will be automatically checked for offsides or fouls in the build-up and relevant phases of play.

When an incident occurs, it’s usually VAR who alerts the referee that they’re reviewing an incident. However, a referee can also inform VAR and ask for their guidance, at which point the specific incident is reviewed from all relevant camera angles.

Fouls may also be checked for instances of violent conduct, for example with the VAR using the numerous angles available and slow-motion replays to better review the incidents. Conversely, offsides will be checked using more advanced and semi-automated technology, but we’ll touch on this in a little more detail below.

Typically, the game will need to be stopped or its resumption delayed while checks are being carried out, as the VAR looks to arrive at an informed decision. The referee may also be called to review the incident again via the pitch-side monitor, before the initial decision is either confirmed or overturned.

A Guide to VAR

How Does VAR Technology Work?

Initially, the technology used to deploy VAR has been relatively straightforward. More specifically, the technology draws footage from multiple pitch-side cameras, while the VAR and on-field referee communicate in real-time through mouth and earpieces.

VAR tech is a little more advanced for offsides, however. More specifically, pitches that use the technology are calibrated by Hawk-Eye at the beginning of each season, which helps to build a 3D model of each one.

These are used during games, with Hawk-Eye’s subsequent offside lines drawn in real-time to match the camber of the entire pitch.

In the recent Qatar World Cup, FIFA even approved so-called “limb tracking” offside technology. This is designed to speed up the process of making offside decisions, while affording far greater accuracy and clarity to fans.

This relies on the 12 of tracking cameras that constantly track the ball, while also drawing data points from each player and sensor installed inside the ball. So, when a player receives the ball in an offside position, the VAR officials will immediately be alerted, and are able to check the decision before alerting the on-field referee.

Interestingly, the offside call and its visual representation can then reprised in the form of a 3D animation, which can be shown on screen to fans and broadcasters alike.

What is the Process for Reviewing Decisions With VAR?

The VAR review process is actually relatively simple, and has three key stages. These include:

Step #1: Following an offside, foul or handball, the referee will inform VAR and ask for their guidance. Or, the VAR team will notice something and alert the on-field referee, either asking him to pause the game or directing him to the pitch-side monitor.

·Step #2: However the incident is referred, the VAR team will then study the footage from the relevant angles. They will then arrive at a conclusion, before notifying the referee via headset and telling him what the footage shows.

Step #3: If the VAR team identifies an offside, they’ll alert the ref and ask him to disallow the goal. When adjudicating handballs or fouls, VARs may also advise referees or ask him to review his decision via the pitch-side monitor. However, the laws prevent VAR from overturning a referee’s decision or recommending this course of action, unless a “clear and obvious error” has been made.

How Does VAR Technology Work

VAR Rules and Regulations

This leads us neatly on the rules and regulations pertaining to VAR, which dictate precisely how and when the technology can be used.

Broadly speaking, VAR will check and review incidents pertaining to four match-changing situations; namely goals, penalty decisions, direct and potential red card incidents and mistaken identity (when the wrong player is penalised for an offence).

So, they won’t adjudicate on fouls or handballs that occur outside the penalty box, while offsides that don’t result in a goal won’t be penalised (regardless of what happens in subsequent phases of play).

But are the exact decisions that can be reviewed by VAR? Let’s take a closer look!

Is a Goal Offside or Not?

Using the aforementioned technology and Hawk-Eye lines, VAR will examine potential offside goals and determine whether an offence has occurred. They must apply the full laws in play here, by focusing on the goalscorer and any other attacking player who may have been offside and interfering with play in the relevant phases at the time the ball was released.

Has There Been a Foul or Handball in the Box?

VAR will also adjudicate potential fouls or handballs in either box, once again according to the relevant rules. With fouls, the key is to determine the precise point of contact and whether or not the ball was played. When it comes to hand ball, the focus is on factors such as proximity and whether the player’s hand is in a natural position.

Does a Foul Constitute a Red Card Offence?

If there’s a foul that may constitute serious foul play, VAR will review the incident to determine the intent and intensity of a challenge and where the contact is made (such as above the shin or over the top of the ball). If the VAR suspects foul play, they can ask the referee to issue a red card or call him to the monitor to have another look.

Of course, the rules highlight some of the limitations of VAR. For example, it’s bound by laws that are vague and developed in an age where VAR technology didn’t exist. This allows for errors in interpretation and a lack of consistency.

Similarly, the inability of VAR to easily overturn issues unless a clear and obvious error has been made is problematic. After all, this also relies on interpretation, while it prevents the VAR team from correcting wrong decisions except in extreme circumstances.

Can VAR overrule a red card?

VAR in Practice

VAR technology was first tested during an international friendly match between Italy and the Netherlands in 2012, with the International Football Association Board (IFAB) approving the use of VAR in 2016.

It was then used in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia, before being rolled out globally and across different competitions.

All Premier League clubs subsequently voted unanimously to adopt VAR in November 2018, with this eventually rolled out at the beginning of the 2019/20 season.

The EPL’s VAR hub is based at Stockley Park, West London. Here, the VAR is helped by an Assistant VAR (AVAR) and a Replay Operator (OR) when reviewing footage.

The change in the game has been marked since the adoption of VAR, particularly with the tech still in its infancy. It has slowed games in some respects, of course, while introducing additional layers of drama as potentially game-changing decisions are comprehensively reviewed.

However, many fans have expressed concerns about the impact on goal celebrations and the flow of games, while high-profile mistakes and inconsistencies have also caused confusion and a lack of transparency (causing supporters to mistrust VAR over time).

Ultimately, this has more to do with human error and the lack of compatibly between the rules and application of video technology, although such issues will hopefully be resolved over time.

VAR in Practice

Your Frequently Asked Questions

Before we bring our VAR guide to a close, we’re going to answer some of your most frequently asked questions. These include:

Can a referee ignore VAR?

Yes; it’s an agreed principle of VAR usage that the on-field referee’s decision remains final. So, the ref has the autonomy to ignore VAR’s recommendations if they wish.

Can VAR overrule a red card?

If a referee is deemed to have made a clear and obvious error in issuing a red card, they can alert the official and encourage them to review the incident via the pitch-side monitor. They can also recommend that a ref upgrade a yellow to a red card, based on viewing different angles of the incident.

How much does VAR cost football?

When Scottish Premier Leagues decided to rollout VAR, it was deemed that this would cost approximately £1.2 million per season. This highlights the amounts that clubs have to fork out for the technology, pitch calibration and additional officials, although better resourced clubs usually pay a proportionately larger amount than others.

Why is there no VAR in EFL?

The cost of VAR means that it isn’t financially viable for many leagues. This includes the English Football League. For example, it would cost the Championship approximately £12.26 million a season to implement VAR, so this is unlikely to be rolled out any time soon.

Is VAR used in the FA Cup?

The FA Cup is not licensed to user VAR across all its fixtures, so this tech is usually found solely at Premier League grounds and Wembley. Interestingly, it may also cost lower league clubs when playing at EPL grounds, so there remains some opposition to VAR in the lower echelons of the game.

Do all leagues use VAR?

No, only a select few elite-level leagues and tournaments use VAR. Even in the case of the FA Cup and League Cup, VAR is only used primarily at EPL grounds and rarely seen in action during the earlier rounds.

In Conclusion

So, there you have it; our comprehensive VAR guide. This should hopefully equip you with a better understanding of the technology and its application, while also showcasing how it can impact the game for the better in the future.

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