VAR: The Technology that changed the world of football

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Video Assistant Referee, or V.A.R as it’s more commonly referred to, is the recent controversial measure introduced by FIFA / IFAB in an attempt to, ironically, make the game less controversial and reduce human error within the game.

The video assistant referee (VAR) is a match official in the association of football. The one who is working off the field rather than on the field using the video footage technology. The video assistant referee can also be termed as the one who reviews the decision made by the head referee, who is involved in the game on the field. The VAR technology also brings in the use of headsets for communicating with the on-field referee. 

The reason why this technology was brought into operation was to minimize human errors. In a world addicted to techno gadgets, VAR was introduced in the year 2018. With extensive trialing in a number of major competitions, VAR was finally written into the Laws of the Game by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). Thus, Operating under the norms and philosophy of “minimal interference, maximum benefit”. Moreover, the Video technology being named VAR is now quite frequently used in the world of soccer.

The technology was also being used in the FIFA World Cup 2018. And thus, will also play a part in the upcoming 2022 World Cup taking place in Qatar. 

How does VAR influence the decision in the Footballing World?

Football technology, namely VAR, seeks to provide a way for “clear and obvious errors” and “serious missed incidents” to be corrected. There are four cases where VAR is allowed to intervene in the decision of the on-field referee:

GOALS

The role of the VAR is to assist the referee to determine whether there was an infringement that means a goal should not be awarded. As the ball has crossed the line, play is interrupted so there is no direct impact on the game.

PENALTY DECISIONS

The role of the VAR is to ensure that no clearly wrong decisions are made in conjunction with the award or non-award of a penalty kick.

DIRECT RED CARD INCIDENTS

The role of the VAR is to ensure that no clearly wrong decisions are made in conjunction with sending off or not sending off a player.

MISTAKEN IDENTITY

The referee cautions or sends off the wrong player, or is unsure which player should be sanctioned. The VAR will inform the referee so that the correct player can be disciplined.

With the involvement of the video assistant referee, the game is moving towards a new error-free era. While over the years there have been few arguments over how the VAR should be brought to use. To get a thorough understanding of when VAR could be more beneficial let us first understand its working. 

How the World of Football operates under VAR?

There is a certain stepwise procedure that is taken under consideration while bringing the involvement of VAR in the modern era of football:

STEP 1: Incident occurs

The referee informs the VAR, or the VAR recommends to the referee that a decision/incident should be reviewed.

STEP 2: Review and advice by the VAR

The video footage is reviewed by the VAR, who advises the referee via headset what the video shows.

STEP 3: Decision or action is taken

The referee decides to review the video footage on the side of the field of play before taking the appropriate action/decision, or the referee accepts the information from the VAR and takes the appropriate action/decision.

Even after following the structural procedure the use of VAR is still facing a lot of Criticism. It is being accused of “creating as much confusion as clarity”. However, with the inclusion of VAR, the decision making of the on-field referee’s has improved over the years. Thus, one of the reasons why VAR is being used across almost all the major leagues across the world. 

How VAR operates in the world’s most elite league: The Premier League

The English Premier League has been adopting the VAR technology since the 2019-20 Premier League season. After the clubs voted unanimously in November 2018 to introduce the system, the journey of VAR begun in the world’s most elite football league. It was decided that all 380 Premier League fixtures in a season will have a VAR. 

The inclusion was decided with a base thinking that 

“VAR will not achieve 100 per cent accuracy, but will positively influence decision-making and lead to more correct, and fairer, judgments.”

While there was some leverage in the use of VAR rules in the initial season. However, with the adoption of technology becoming popular the Premier League made certain changes by removing the leniency on decisions. The 2020-21 season having their headlines saying 

“Officials are set to use the Referee Review Area more, while there will be no tolerance for goalkeepers coming off their line to save penalties”

The Referee Review Area (RRA) is now being used more in the league. The subjective decisions involving three key areas i.e. goals, red cards and penalty kicks is now being given a second look by the on-field referee. To maintain the pace and intensity of the matches, Premier League has set a high bar for VAR intervention.

Talking about the penalties now the protocol does not allow for tolerance levels. Thus, if the goalkeeper saves a penalty and his foot is over the line then VAR will advise it is retaken. Meanwhile, the most crucial and yet the most conundrum decisions are related to the offside calls. While from the 2020-21 season according to the upgraded Premier League VAR rules

“When an immediate goal scoring opportunity is likely to occur, the assistant referee will keep their flag down until the passage of play is completed.”

The Green and Red lines are also being introduced for the tight offside calls. The line automatically turns red if even the slightest part of one body is crossing the offside line. If the color eventually turns green thus there is no offside.

VAR and the Future of Football 

The technology though yet being criticized by many has certainly minimized human errors. The modern era of football is playing its cards and VAR is just the beginning of that saga. While introducing the video assistant referee system from the past 3 or 4 years in the world of football the goal is to improve the game. Moreover, the current 3-year planning is to make the modern era free of any errors. Thus the FIFA officials current mission and future vision states 

“FIFA’s mission is to spread football globally and one of the goals of The Vision 2020-2023 is to leverage technology in the development of the game and improvement of the football experience.”

No doubt the adoption of technology has now become a part and parcel of life. Thus, the footballing world will surely use more and more tech gadgets as time-lapse.

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