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Football Basics: Video Assistant Referee’s (VAR) Role in Modern Football

Football Basics: Video Assistant Referee

Conceived as an initiative to improve fair-play and a referee’s decision-making on the pitch, the intervention of a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has come a long way since its inception in 2010. Simply put, a VAR allows for reviewing the video footage of potential infringements on the pitch at the behest of the match referees or the VAR team.

The technology was introduced to lessen the pressure on on-pitch officials and ensure they make better decisions with the assistance of a dedicated reviewing team. Though the VAR is essential in offering an opinion, the final decision lies with the match referee.

The match referee is not compelled to request an intervention by VAR but is encouraged to reconsider his decision following an intervention or having made an incorrect decision in match-changing situations. A match referee can call for a review anytime during the game, with the VAR team too, keeping an eye on potential infringements inadvertently missed out by the match referee.

Though the technology is prone to human subjectivity, it has resulted in fairer judgements and fewer incorrect decisions on the pitch. A VAR usually intervenes during instances pertaining to potential fouls, bookings, penalties, offsides, and violations preceding a goal, among others.

VAR: How Does It Work?

Football Basics: VAR
Video operation room at the 2018 FIFA World Cup tournament in Russia.

Traditionally a team of three, the VAR comprises former and current referees who are audibly connected with the pitch officials and review the relevant footage during the game. The VAR team and the match referee work together, with the latter having the final say on his/her/their decisions. The reviewing team includes a main video assistant referee, an assistant, and the main replay operator, all co-ordinating from a video operation room consisting of several monitors to review an infringement from various camera angles.

While the VAR team is encouraged to intervene in a potentially incorrect decision by the match referee, a decision is only overturned in case of evidence of a ‘clear error’ by the main official. The reviewing process is mainly carried out in two ways i.e on request by the match referee or by the recommendation of VAR.

If the VAR team finds a clear error in the main official’s decision, it must be overturned, however, if the match officials are unable to reach a consensus, the match referee is encouraged to review video footage of the incident on the pitch-side monitor or stand-by the initial decision.

When Is It Used?

Football Basics: VAR

VAR primarily intervenes in cases related to potential penalties, bookings, and several related violations during a game. In cases of a potential penalty, a VAR does not intervene with the exception of a clear foul, a red card, or on request by the match referee.

Similarly, potential fouls between the two penalty boxes are not subject to review, unless an infringement – subject to review – is committed during the build-up play, leading to a goal or worthy of a serious offence.

How Is It Reviewed?

Football Basics: VAR
Michael Oliver reviewing video footage on the pitch-side monitor during a Premier League game.

After scrutinizing all relevant camera angles pertaining to the incident, the VAR team notify their findings and deliver a verdict to the match referee. Provided a decision is being reviewed, the referee is required to notify the players and give the official signal vis-à-vis a VAR review.

Following the review, the match official is entitled to changing their decision, review the footage themselves, or stand by the original decision in the absence of clear evidence of infringement.

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