VAR: how does it function and in what circumstances can be used?

Notable changes have happened over the years in every sport, although football has experienced some of the biggest revolutions, maybe because of the relevance it currently has. This development has come to football not only in terms of changing the facilities of the teams, but also in the way it is practised and understood.

As we mentioned in our latest post, this development has been parallel to the technological innovation, which in many cases has been used in order to improve sport and the way we see it. Good examples of this idea are tools like ‘hawk-eye’, high definition cameras or the intercommunication equipment used by the referees to communicate between them. However, one of these innovations has taken up the current affairs of the newspapers in the recent years: Video Assistant Referee, better known as VAR.

VAR is currently one of the most cutting-edge ideas, and no exempt of a controversial part, that has been introduced in football. Its main objective is to provide football with more justice (there has been cases in which a simple centimetre has been decisive to disallow or not a goal), but it is a tool that is not fully assimilated by the audience and the players. Both collectives are still assiduously wondering if VAR is being used in a proper way, if it is being taken advantage of the whole potential of the tool and even if we should return to pre-VAR football.

Defenders and detractors

There are diverse arguments to support the latest sentence, although a great percentage of the reticent people claim that VAR “steals the emotion of football”, “slows down matches” or that “VAR comes to eliminate the controversy of football and it is causing the opposing effect”.

However, it is nonetheless true that stats show a reduction in the number of mistakes made by the referees after the implementation of this technology. For example, in Spain the Referees Committee of the RFEF convene press conferences during the season (in the next tweet you can find the balance of the 2018/2019 season, first with VAR in Spain) in order to examine these stats and to show media, players and fans that technology is helping them to make better decisions on the field.

But it would be absurd to restrict the use of technology to the 90 minutes of play. This is the reason why certain tools are being continuously used to facilitate the referees’ formation. Tools like our e-learning platform CloudLab, used by the aforementioned committee in order to chase the criterion unity not only between the Spanish elite referees, but also between the referees committees of each territorial federation in the country.

VAR principles and protocol

Coming back to the subject, we could define VAR as a tool based in the positioning of multiple high definition cameras in diverse locations of a football pitch and created to offer support to the referees in order to minimize its mistakes in some cases that can happen during a match. In that sense, VAR will only be used when some of these four cases occurred: goals, penalties, straight red cards and mistaken identity.

Although VAR has been created to intervene in those cases, it must always follow some basic principles keeping its slogan “minimal interference, maximum benefit” in mind:

VAR check every match-changing situation in the event of a clear and obvious error or a serious missed incident.

The on-field referee is the only one who makes the final decision, what implies that VAR is simply a help to ensure the right decision is made.

Nobody can ask for a VAR intervention, because VAR is continuously checking the play and only the referee in charge of this tool can recommend a review to the on-field referee.

Now that these aspects are clear, let’s go in depth with the plays that can be reviewed in the four aforementioned cases:


If there is an offside that has occurred before the goal,

if there is a previous offence before the goal,

if the ball is out of play before the goal,

if the ball has entirely crossed the goal line (in those competitions in which Goal-Line Technology is not used).


When a penalty kick is awarded, but images show that there is no offence inside the penalty area;

when a penalty kick is awarded, but the offence is outside the penalty area;

when a penalty kick is not awarded, but images show that there is an offence inside the penalty area;

if the ball is out of play before the penalty offence;

if there is a previous offence (handball, offside…) made by the attacking team before the penalty offence,

if there is an offence by the goalkeeper, player or kicker at the taking of a penalty.

Straight red cards

Sending-off offences that are not sanctioned but, after checking the play, VAR referee observes that red card should be shown,

offences that are sanctioned with a red card but, after checking the play, VAR referee observes that red card should not be shown.

Mistaken identity

Mistakes at the time of cautioning or sending off the wrong player.

VAR procedure

In order to intervene in these cases, there are some previous steps that must be followed before making a decision.

Offence: An offence that fits with some of the aforementioned cases has occurred. Once the ball is out of play, VAR members request the referee to delay the restart of the match to check the full situation. The main referee will point to his ear in order to warn the players.

Check: VAR referees check the offence with the cameras that has been previously placed in the stadium. If, in their opinion, it has not happened any of the aforementioned circumstances, the main referee can order the restart of the game. Otherwise, play will be reviewed and the referee will indicate the situation drawing a monitor in the air with his hands.

Review: We can consider that there are two possibilities based on the case it is being reviewed:

Decision without the on-field review monitor: the on-field referee accepts the advice of the VAR members and don’t review the decision with the on-field review monitor. This option is for cases in which the subjectivity of the referee doesn’t come into play at the time of appreciate the play. A great example are offside offences in which the offender actively interferes with play, for example touching the ball.

Decision with the on-field review monitor: VAR referees consider that there is a clear and obvious error in which the subjectivity of the referee comes into play and recommend the main referee to go to the Referee Review Area (RRA) in order to review the play and to make a decision based on them and based on what he has previously noticed on the field.

Going along with the previous example, a situation that can perfectly illustrate this case is an offside offence in which the offender interferes with an opponent: a shot that ends in a goal but, in the moment of the kick, a player of the attacking team is in an offside position and it can be considered that the player is in the path of the ball. In that circumstance, referee must go to the on-field monitor to discern if the attacker who is in an offside position interferes with the goalkeeper’s view.

From Thermography to VAR: Technology applied to sport

In the recent years, technological advances are making its way in sports world. However, it should be asked in what measurement that advances are simply used at the service of the television spectacle or, otherwise, if its use in order to improve sport in essence is fully extended, with implementations and objectives obviously differents depending on the sport they are introduced.

This kind of technology has been turned into a fundamental pillar in sports industry, being pioneer in its use in many ways until reaching a point at which nowadays it’s really hard to think some sports without the presence of this tools.

Therefore, we bring you a summary of some of these technologies that have managed to improve the world of sports formation and performance.

    1. Thermography

    Thermography applied to sport is a technology that allows to evaluate the superficial temperature of athletes in a particular moment. This technology has its origin in the National Institute of Physical Education (INEF) of Madrid and it’s used by many different elite clubs from several sports disciplines.


    ThermoHuman is a company specialized in thermography applied to physical activity that has stirred up the field of injury preventions in sport. It’s a software that analyses with artificial vision human thermic images in order to detect asymmetries in the body temperature, which can help to prevent possible muscle fatigues and injuries. Through a detailed exam of the users’ physical condition, a specific training can be planned for each user.

    In conclusion, this system helps to prevent injuries by means of a previous analysis. The applications of infrared thermography in sports science, medicine and physiotherapy includes both injuries tracking and prevention, the initial assessment and the physical load measurement.

    Sports disciplines such diverse as tennis, American football, baseball, cricket and motor sports, among others, have open the door to the improve of its competitions through the different applications of this technological advance.

    2. Tracking systems

    Other technologies that have sharply developed in the recent years in sport are the tracking and positioning systems. These tools offer an invaluable information to team sports like football, basketball or indoor football, among others. They help the coaching staff to go in depth in the knowledge of its players and to make decisions, not only during a competition, but also during training and rest cycles

    But these positioning systems are not only used by clubs of the aforementioned sports. In Spain we can find the example of the Referees Committee of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) that uses this technology, as it is shown in the following tweet, in order to improve its referees’ performance.

    Originally, these systems were mainly based in the use of GPS signals, what restricted its usefulness to outdoor sports. However, the development of new models based on Wi-Fi or radiofrequency signals has allows this technology to introduce itself in indoor sports, having been currently positioned as one of the most used tools in both professional and amateur sport.


    Kinexon is the developer company of a radiofrequency positioning system. Its main objective is to provide a tool aimed to coaching staffs for analyzing the performance and strategy of their team.

    Kinexon offers an integral training, performance, injury prevention, rehabilitation, player’s development, match analyses and technical information control through a series of measures like distance, speed, jumps or strength, among others, with an accuracy of less than 10 centimeters. What is more, its system can be used in both outdoor and indoor training facilities.

    3. Heart rate and variability monitoring systems

    Physiological variables such as heart rate have been used since long time ago to discover some aspects of the internal performance of the athletes. Although at the beginning the evaluating tools were expensive and unaffordable in lots of cases, the development of new technologies has popularized the use of monitoring tools like wrist-based activity trackers, strap heart rate monitors or holter monitors.

    These systems are capable of monitoring internal aspects such as heart rate and variability, measures useful not only during the sport activity but also in the daily life. This technology, of which accuracy can significantly vary between the aforementioned options, provides an invaluable information about sports performance, recovery after an effort, rest quality or even the stress level experienced for the users.

    4. Video Systems

    Video solutions are more and more present in sport. At a commercial and spectacle level, the incorporation of minicameras adhered to the athletes, to the vehicles or in key locations is a resource that allows the audience to enjoy sport from an original and more attractive point of view. Cycling, football, swimming or motor sports like motorcycling are good examples of this idea, contributing to a more interactive relationship between audience and sport.

    But going beyond its commercial interest, this technology also represents an invaluable resource at an internal level, because it facilitates the evolution of sport, its rules and the way we understand it. In this way, in the last years several tools based on video technology have been appearing, modifying our sports conception and offering an added value through the development of new technologies.

    Azor, our instant replay multicamera system, is a perfect example of this idea. Thanks to this technology, a huge amount of national and international federations have improved their referees’ formation. But there are other tools, like the mentioned below.

    Goal-Line technology

    This technology has meant a great help for referees who will avoid players’ complaints and will confirm without doubts If a play has ended in goal.

    This system is based on placing some high-definition cameras in the upper part of the stadiums and their 3D images will serve to virtually recreate the positioning of the ball and, in this way, obtain a verdict if the ball has or has not crossed the goal line. In less than a second, the match official will receive a vibration signal in its clock in case the play has ended in goal.

    Tennis judge calling system, commonly known as “Hawkeye”, is based on the same technology. It’s been applied since 2006 in the main tournaments of the world, in addition to other sports like cricket.

    VAR (Video Assistant Replay)

    This systems consists in a series of cameras which images are evaluated in the Video Operation Room (VOR), where a referee or referees in charge of VAR review the decisions made by the match official, who will always have the last word about the reviewed play.

    Although in future posts we will talk in depth about this technology, this video perfectly summarizes in what moments VAR can review if a decision made by a referee has been right or wrong.

    Movies that every football fan should watch

    Football can’t be defined as a simple sport. Its global reach has meant that it has transcended this original concept to become part of what is usually defined as mass culture. And, as an integral part of this concept, its tentacles have been extended to other media such as literature, music or, in the case we are dealing now, cinema.

    However, long before it reached the dimension it has today, this sport was already serving as an inspiration for filmmakers. In fact, the first Spanish sound film in history is considered to be “Football, love and bulls”, directed by Florian Rey and released on 07 January 1930.

    That year, Athletic de Bilbao would win the Spanish First Division, in which only 10 teams were playing and which had formerly illustrious teams such as Real Union Club de Irun, Arenas Club de Guecho or C.D. Europa. However, the plot of the film is triggered when the fictitious goalkeeper of Triana FC fails miserably in a match against Real Madrid, which leads him to prove himself (unsuccessfully) in bullfighting with the intention of conquering his beloved and her father, who does not accept a footballer as his son-in-law.

    The film, of which no copies have been preserved, shows that the vision of the world of football has changed a lot since then, and cinema is no exception when it comes to reflecting this new reality. That’s why we wanted to make a selection of films about football, all of them released in the 21st century, which every football lover should see. 

    The Miracle of Bern, Sönke Wortmann (2003)

    We begin with the only film in this list that narrates a real history, although it has certain fiction elements: the one known as “Miracle of Bern”, that names the film and meant one of the biggest surprises in the World Cup history.

    Suffering a deep crisis after losing the World War II and with the country and its capital split into two, it was a surprised for the football world that the Federal Republic of Germany earned a place in the final of the World Cup organised by Switzerland in 1954. And even more that the fourth of July the outsiders won the title against the great favourite: Hungary, leaded by Ferenc Puskás, Zoltán Czibor or Sándor Kocsis, among other excellent players. If we add to the mix the fact that in the eight minute of the final Magyars were already won 0-2, we will have the perfect ingredients for an epic film.

    West Germany got back in the game and, beyond every other player, Helmut Rahn turned into the hero of the final after scoring two of the three goals of his national team. Der Boss, as he was called in his country, is precisely the main character of the film The miracle of Bern.

    Suffering a deep crisis after losing the World War II and with the country and its capital split into two, it was a surprised for the football world that the Federal Republic of Germany earned a place in the final of the World Cup organised by Switzerland in 1954. And even more that the fourth of July the outsiders won the title against the great favourite: Hungary, leaded by Ferenc Puskás, Zoltán Czibor or Sándor Kocsis, among other excellent players. If we add to the mix the fact that in the eight minute of the final Magyars were already won 0-2, we will have the perfect ingredients for an epic film.

    West Germany got back in the game and, beyond every other player, Helmut Rahn turned into the hero of the final after scoring two of the three goals of his national team. Der Boss, as he was called in his country, is precisely the main character of the film The miracle of Bern.

    Matthias is a boy that grows up without his father, Richard, a Soviet Union war prisoner. However, he relies on another father figure: the footballer Helmut Rahn, who takes the child under his wings. Nevertheless, shortly before the competition, Matthias’ father returns troubled by his captivity. The boy’s passion for the event contrasts with his father’s apathy, but Germany’s victory will serve to restore Richard’s zest for life.

    Goal!, Danny Cannon (2005)

    David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Raúl González, Patrick Kluivert, Rafael Márquez, Steven Gerrard, Alan Shearer, Damien Duff, Henry, Ronaldinho, Iker Casillas, Robinho, Lionel Messi… This distinguished group of footballers appeared in the trilogy Goal!, in which FIFA actively collaborate giving up, amongst other things, the rights for using the real names of both teams and players.

    The first film of the saga was released in 2005. Goal!, directed by Danny Cannon, tells the beginning of the adventure of Santiago Muñez (Kuno Becker), a Mexican boy who lives unlawfully with his family in the United States hoping to be a footballer. As he grows up, he starts giving up his dream until the day a former English footballer see his abilities with the ball. He promises Santiago that if he travels to England (leaving his family without the opportunity to return), he will put Santiago in touch with one of his former Premier League teams: Newcastle United.

    This is the first film of a trilogy about the value of the dreams and the withdrawals that implies being a professional footballer. The next films of the saga are Goal II: Living the Dream, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (2007), and Goal III: Taking on the World, directed by Andrew Morathan (2009). The latest film also includes cameos of the well-known referees Horacio Elizondo, Frank De Bleeckere and Massimo Busacca

    Salir pitando, Álvaro Fernández Armero (2007)

    La Romareda, 1996. Zaragoza and Barcelona play a match that will go down in history for a play in which the assistant referee Rafa Guerrero calls the principal referee, Mejuto González, to warn him that there has been a penalty and expulsion in favour of the visiting team. In that moment, Mejuto will release a phrase that will remain in the memory of Spanish football fans: «Rafa, don’t fuck with me». 24 years later, it is still reminded to the protagonists. As an anecdote it can be said that the true words weren´t those, but “Come on, fuck Rafa, I shit on my mother, expulsion of who?», although that words are never going to change in the collective imagination.

    That phrase is the basis for the comedy Salir pitando, directed by Álvaro Fernández Armero, which was released 11 years after the aforementioned event. In the film, José Luis Pérez is a referee of LaLiga who, despite being considered one of the best referees in the past, is going through many personal and professional problems that are making him the most hated referee by the fans.

    In spite of these conditions, he decides to referee the match Recreativo de Huelva – Valencia in the last fixture of the competition that can decide the championship for the visiting team. And he will do it accompanied by his inseparable assistant referee and friend Rafa (Javier Gutiérrez), a name that will be used by José Luis Pérez to paraphrase Mejuto González.

    As a curiosity, it is worth mentioning that some scenes of the film were shot in the Nuevo Colombino stadium during a real Spanish LaLiga match between Recreativo de Huelva and Valencia FC.

    L’arbitro, Paolo Zucca (2013)

    Imagine, for a moment, that before the final of a major European competition the referee is caught taking a bribe to rig the result of the match. And, as a punishment, he is sent to referee the worst team in the Italian third division. Awesome, isn’t it?

    This is what L’arbitro proposes, a grotesque comedy directed by Paolo Zucca based on his short film of the same name which won the David de Donatello in 2009, the most prestigious award in Italian cinema. Cruciani (Stefano Accorsi) goes from refereeing finals on the best stages of the European continent to referee on the fields of land where he had never expected to return, receiving insults without the parapet offered by the remoteness and deafening noise of a big stadium.

    Filmed in black and white, film director confessed to having been inspired by several real cases to build his story. Byron Moreno, a former international referee who is widely remembered in Italy for his controversial performance in the round of 16 of the 2002 FIFA World Cup hosted by Korea and Japan, or the hearings of the “Calciopoli”, a scandal that affected several teams in the Serie A, served Zucca to build his story “forgetting the names and facts, keeping the way of speaking”.

    Underdogs, Juan José Campanella (2013)

    “If I had to put music in the background of my life, it would be the broadcast of football games”. This phrase perfectly defines its author, the deceased Argentinean writer and cartoonist Roberto Fontanarrosa, and explains that his passion for this sport flooded a good part of his stories.

    One of them is Memoirs of a Right Wing, which served as the seed for the script of Underdogs (The Unbeatables in the UK), which become the milestone of being the first Argentinean 3D animated film. Directed by Juan Jose Campanella (The secret in their eyes), it follows in the footsteps of Jake, a shy boy who will have to face Ace, considered the best football player in the world but who still has to avenge the only defeat he has ever suffered in his life: when he was a child, Jake beat him in a table football match.

    However, the protagonist will have an invaluable and unexpected support when he discovers that table football players have a life of their own and they will help him to defeat his opponent again.

    Do you want to accompany us in this new adventure?

    Montes, one of the greatest sports broadcasters in Spain, told in one of his
    most emblematic sentences that “life could be wonderful”. However, the relevant
    part wasn´t what he said or how he did it, but when: after a precise pass, a
    goal in the upper corner, a three-point buzzer beater shot…

    Labhipermedia we are sure that when Montes put the word “life” in that phrase, he
    was really thinking around what his life was based on. Because sport world
    could be, and we venture to confirm it, wonderful. So simple (at the end, everything
    could be summed up in two rivals fighting to win a match) and so complex (without
    a tactical, technical and mental work, among other things, that opponents will
    hardly reach his goal) as life is.

    in Labhipermedia we haven´t want to stay on the surface. That aforementioned
    complexity brings us to investigate in the use of technology as a driving force
    to improve the learning experience. That´s exactly why the main products of this
    company have always been aimed at sports management and formation: Azor, our
    multisignal wireless capture and video analysis; CloudLab, e-learning platform,
    and Mulppy, display system for multimedia presentations.

    This blog
    has been created in order to complete them. In its posts, we will analyse that
    aspects that inspire and motivate the creation of the company 17 years ago.
    Here you will find in-depth articles focused on content that could interest to
    every sector that support sport just like we conceive it: players, coaches,
    referees… And that´s not all: among other things, we will also remember past
    curiosities that help to understand the current affairs and we will recommend
    reads and films for sports fans

    Do you want
    to accompany us in this new adventure?