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