Football and the Introduction of the VAR Technology

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There is no doubt that football is the most popular and engaging sport in the world today. It is a sport that hardly knows segregation boundaries. Globally, football has proved a uniting force in many countries, irrespective of gender, colour, ethnicity, religious differences. However, because of the sentiments, many football lovers attach to the sport, it can equally cause unexpected emotional responses or even violence when certain decisions are not well made in the game. Think about wrong bookings, neglected goals or fouls, wrong red or yellow cards, etc. These mistakes are inevitable due to human errors. Hence the need for the introduction of the VAR.

The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has been introduced in the football sports to help minimize human mistakes and errors – or intentional cheats and dishonesty – that might be caused by a football match referee. Think of a situation whereby the referee either ignores an indispensable decision or resolves to issue unnecessary directives. The use of the VAR, therefore, brings more honesty and fewer conflicts to the sports by assisting match officials to assess the decision made by the head referee. The VAR ensures more control and scrutiny of decisions on the football pitch.

VAR works alongside two other people; one being its assistant and the other works as a replay operator. They operate in a video operation room located a few kilometres away from the match venue.

How the system works

The referee speaks to the VAR or vice versa and recommends for the review of an incident and the on-field official pause the play pending the decision. The VAR team views the footage and informs the referee whether the decision is supposed to be held or not. In the case of subjective incidents, the VAR advises him or her to watch the on-pitch review before making a decision.

History of VAR

The idea to have the VAR system was conceived by The Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) dubbed as Refereeing 2.0 Project 2010. Two years later, the project gave birth to goal-line technology, which alerts the referees when the ball completely passes the goal line. 

The KNVB’s attempt in 2014 to persuade the International Football Association Board (IFAB) to use the VAR during the football matches was dealt a major blow after their proposal was vehemently opposed by the then FIFA boss Sepp Blatter. The Dutch proposal received a boost a year later after President Blatter was ousted from the office on corruption allegations and Gianni Infantino took over. Members of the football body overwhelmingly voted for the idea during a preparatory meeting held in the FIFA headquarter in Zurich, Switzerland.

After a live trial of the VAR system for two years, including in an international friendly between France and Italy, the A-League of Australia became the first top football flight to use the system in April 2017. In June the same year, it was used in the 2017 FIFA Confederation Cup, followed by Major League Soccer in the US in August, and FIFA U-20 World Cup in October.

Top-flight European Football also responded by introducing the technology in their respective leagues. Bundesliga and Serie A of Germany and Italy respectively embraced the VAR in 2017/2018 season; same with the French League 1, then Spanish La Liga implemented it the following season, 2018/2019.

The English Premier League, one of the most famous and competitive leagues in the world employed the use of the VAR system in the season of 2019/2020 despite its existence and use in England FA Cup since 2017/2018. The UEFA Champions League has not been left behind; VAR is currently used in the prestigious competition. The 2018 World Cup also adopted the new technology, which has left football fans, managers and players excited and fuming.

Despite all the praises, the VAR technology is not perfect. The system has been on the receiving end of criticism due to what some call lack of clarity and consistency and lack of transparency, as some remain unaware of which incidents are being reviewed by the VAR. Some argue that since the human judgment is still required the system is still marred with several mistakes, a claim that is overridden by the FIFA’s data. The body reported that the VAR system had a success rate of 99.3 per cent up from the 95 per cent of correct calls by referees without VAR during the 2018 World Cup.

Uses of VAR

The VAR is applied in case the officials have made clear and obvious errors in the following four key errors:

1. Goals

The VAR helps the referee to determine whether there were infringements before a goal was scored or not. The offences include the ball going out of the field of play; the player who scored the goal or offside, handball or foul committed in the build-up process. In case one of the offences was committed before a goal was scored, it will be automatically overturned by the VAR.

   2. Penalty decisions 

By using the system, penalties can be rewarded or withdrawn if there are clear and obvious errors.

   3. Direct red cards 

In cases where the head referee misses scenarios such as violent conduct, use of offensive language or gestures and serious foul play, a player can be penalized by VAR. 

 4. Mistaken identity

When the referee is not sure of the player who committed an offence, it is the responsibility of VAR to tell the referee who the player is.

The following are the abbreviations and technical terms used about the VAR system:

VOR (Video Operation Room) – This is a room where the VAR team is situated.

OFR (On-Field-Reviews) – This is a review process proposed by the VAR team

RO (Replay Operator) –This is an individual who offers assistance to video officials in operating the broadcast and his/her contributions are vital in the final decision making.

RRA (Referee Review Area) –Refers to the area where an on-field review takes place. It is always located along the pitch at the sight of all.

Check – It is the process by which the VAR reviews all decisions made by the head referee on the pitch.

Video official – This is a match official who works in partnership with other on-field officials.

Clear and obvious error – Refers to a threshold that has to be met for an on-field decision to be invalidated.

Of course, no technology is perfect or error-free, including the VAR; however, few would argue that the introduction of the VAR has not made football more transparent – and more beautiful.