Professional soccer games have four referees on the field watching the game. One referee is the main officiator who ensures that the Laws of the Game are occurring on the pitch, and then two linesmen have better views of offsides from the side. The fourth referee is the one next to the dugouts to manage substitutions.
VAR, the video assistant referee, is now the new 5th referee during a soccer game. The process works by having a central location that monitors the soccer game with multiple camera angles to slow down and zoom in on questionable plays. The main referee can communicate with the VAR team replay operator to review an obvious error and change the field call.
So why is VAR now a part of soccer? How do referees signal that they want a video review of a play, and what plays can they review? Can fans see what the video replay during a game? Here is the complete breakdown of VAR in soccer.
Early History of the VAR System in Soccer
The use of VAR began in the Netherlands ‘ Referee 2.0 project in Eredivisie, the highest football league in the Netherlands, during the 2012-2013 season. After initial tests of the program went well, the KNVB (Royal Dutch Football Association) shared the results with the International Football Association Board. After a few tests and trials by the IFAB, VAR was ready for a friendly match to implement the real-time review technology.
The first trial of VAR took place in July 2016 between PSC and FC Eindhoven. After that, VAR took place during a Major League Soccer game in 2016, with two successful calls made during the replay review. VAR then made its way into the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup as another tool for referees to use during the game.
In 2017, Major League Soccer and Portuguese Football Federation began incorporating VAR into their regular-season games. In 2018, England, Italy, and France began experimenting with VAR in their soccer games. Finally, in 2018, IFAB added VAR into the Laws of the Game.
Why is VAR in Soccer (Association Football)?
Today, technology and sports are inseparable. Fans can watch games on their phones, laptops, tablets, and big screens and have better camera angles and replays to showcase right or wrong calls. Since officials on the pitch make decisions fast, having a second set of eyes on a play with replay can help correct an otherwise incorrect call on the field.
During the 2018/2019 season, officials got critical match decisions correct 82% of the time in the English Premier League. Once VAR came into play, accurate calls went up to 94%. During the 2018 World Cup in Russia, VAR was able to correct 17 out of 20 bad calls, which is essential in not letting a referee incorrectly dictate a game.
Awarding the right play on the field is critical, especially with video replay showing if something should be overturned during a match. While there are downsides to having more technology in the game, match officials want to get the call right on the soccer field, which is ultimately the point of VAR.
What Does the Video Assistant Referee Review?
- Goal or no goal: For instance, if a soccer ball may have gone out of bounds before a goal, that is reviewable with VAR. Another example is a handball use that directly led to a goal. Finally, a goalkeeper who saves the goal while their foot is over the goal line is reviewable.
- Direct Red Card Decisions: Sometimes, an incorrect red card call can occur during a game. The VAR team can review if a tackle was clean or not, which can help overturn an incorrect red card call.
- Penalty Decisions: Offside decisions during a goal score is a common reviewable play by the VAR team
- Cases of Mistaken Identity: After giving out a red or yellow card, the VAR team can review if the referee got the correct person identified or not for their actions
What Does VAR not Check During a Game?
- Yellow cards that would not lead to a goal
- Handballs that would not lead to a goal
- Basic fouls that would not lead to a goal-scoring opportunity
- Reviewing corner kicks vs. goal kicks
How Does the Referee Communicate with the VAR Team?
The head referee during a soccer game can hear the VAR team in the video operating room during a game through their earpiece. The VAR team can alert the head referee of an obvious error during a game, or the head ref can ask the team for help in a review. Sometimes the review is quick and doesn’t create any stoppage in action, so some fans don’t realize that this communication is happening during a game. For example, the video room can confirm that the initial call is correct through the earpiece, and the ref quickly resumes the game’s action.
However, VAR can only suggest a review that the head referee can take if they choose. The final decision always comes down to the referee and how they want to handle an on-field review.
Is there a Time Limit in VAR?
There is no time limit in how long VAR takes, which is part of the criticism of the setup. However, with a team looking into every angle and a video screen to help explain and show the referee what they see, the correct call only takes a few minutes at most to get the call right and resume action. Most of the time, calls are quick, and fans don’t even notice that this communication occurs during a game.
Where is VAR Located?
The video operating room can either be in the soccer stadium or somewhere nearby.
Can Soccer Players Request VAR to Review a Play?
Any soccer player who asks for a VAR, or makes the tv box symbol with their hands to the ref to review a play, will receive a yellow card.
Is VAR Part of the Laws of the Game?
VAR is part of the Laws of the Game and was introduced by FIFA and the IFAB in 2018.
How Does the Referee Signal a VAR Check?
A referee will signal a VAR review by placing their hand to their earpiece and then making an imaginary rectangle box with their hands, signaling a review. However, before making a VAR request, a referee must make an initial decision during a game. A referee can’t give a no-decision on a call during a soccer game and then request VAR.
What Does the VAR Team Look Like Behind the Scenes?
There is an entire team at VAR watching multiple angles of play during a soccer game. There is the lead assistant video referee and three assistant video referees. A few replay operators also control the camera view and help give the most accurate view of a play in question.
An official from FIFA is also in the room then broadcasts the video review to the ref and fans. This type of transparency helps fans see precisely what the officials are reviewing with their camera angles. A yellow message means a delay in review, red means a call is being studied, and green is the new outcome.
Referee Review Area
If the referee wants to watch a video review of a questionable play, they can head over to the pitch-side camera to watch the video screen. Referees will do this to help understand what the VAR team is seeing to make the correct call on the field.
Can Fans See the Video Replay of VAR at a Game?
Soccer fans at the stadium or watching TV will see the review on the big screen during a VAR moment. There are three video pictures on-screen to help explain the story. One big picture shows the play under review, the second video of the referee looking into the play, and the third the control team providing the TV signal for fans to see action.
Once the referee makes their decision based on the data, the initial call will stand or change by the referee. The big screen will showcase the decision to have complete transparency in this referee call.
Are There any Drawbacks with VAR?
There are a few drawbacks of VAR during a game. For fans, seeing the field referee pause the action to watch a play can take the momentum out of the game. Since VAR is now part of the World Cup, fans might be on the edge of their seat during the action and then need to wait a bit to watch a referee make a call on their original decision.
Players also suffer a bit during VAR because it slows down their adrenaline during a game. While it is essential for the call to go the right way during the game, sometimes players will mentally struggle to go from competing to standing around the pitch waiting for the correct call.
Finally, VAR loses the human touch of the game in certain situations. The drama from a bad call has always been part of the game. Changing that to make sure that a correct decision occurs during a match is essential, but it also changes the human nature of the game.
Conclusion: What is VAR in Soccer?
In summary, technology continues to enhance the viewing experience of association football. Fans today can see multiple camera angles on calls in real-time, so that type of insight is helpful for referees to have to make sure they get the correct calls on the field. Accurate calls in the English Premier League improved from 82% to 94% during an early trial run of VAR.
However, while there are benefits in using more technology during soccer games, the system has critics. Some fans don’t like technology because it removes the human error element during the game. Also, for players, the pause in action can mentally wear them down, which can cause them to not be as sharp at resuming the game.
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