The Video Assistant Referee is being used for the first time at a World Cup and the Russia 2018 is the first international competition to feature it.
The system is football’s first attempt at using video technology to aid in refereeing decisions. The idea is to help the on-field official make the right call – and stop them making a howler that could cost a side the game.
Four referees sit in a video operation room and follow the action live from the stadium on a series of TV screens. Thirty-three different cameras plus two dedicated offside cameras theoretically give them all the angles they could ever need. The referee can communicate directly with the VAR team via their radio microphone.
VAR can only be used in four “match-changing situations”: goals, penalty decisions, red cards and cases of mistaken identity. If the referee makes a clear mistake in any of the four situations above, the VAR team will advise him or her to check the call. VAR can only advise on a decision: it’s up to the official on the pitch to make the final call.
Even more intriguingly, if the ref has missed a violent play incident off the ball that should result in a straight red, then the VAR can pick up on that and let the ref know, even as play is continuing. If a player commits a violent act and it gets picked up on the TV cameras, then VAR will get to know about it and it will be dealt with.
Though the VAR is a new system, both players and fans could be confused about how it’s actually being used. Viewers at home being able to hear the video referee is the obvious next step in order to make things clearer. “The video referee should be able to speak and help the people understand the decision-making process,” he says. “There shouldn’t be any hiding. It should be transparent.”
Referees under fierce spotlight at the World Cup or any game could turn to VAR for every major call, disrupting the flow of the game and meaning even more stoppage time says former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg.