Video Assistant Referees (VARs) To Be Used in Football

During the last two weeks, Football has appreciated an integration of technology in its system. The International Football Association Board (IFAB) has approved the inclusion of video assistant referees (VARs) during the live matches of USA’s Major Soccer League (MLS). This system is in try out stages and will remain here for 2 more years.

Major professional leagues of other sports like Hockey, Rugby, Basketball and Cricket are famous for using video reviewing technology to assist match referees make right decisions. However, after long debates in the inclusion of technology in football, this is a first time video replays are being used in any professional football league during live match.

As mentioned earlier, the system is part of IFAB and FIFA’s experiments to check if VAR’s would improve the game. Apart from MLS, major national leagues of other countries like Australia, Brazil, Germany, Portugal and the Netherlands will also participate in the experiment.

The review process will look like this;

VARs decision making panel. Image Source: Sportstechie

Just like Cricket’s TV umpire has access to all the videos from every possible angle, the VARs will also work like that. The field referee can ask for a review himself or the review can be recommended by the VARs in order to make a crucial decision. VARs will guide the referee through headset. Eventually, the referee will be having two options; 1) To watch the video replay at the big screen near the pitch or 2) Ask an advice from VARs and then make a decision.

Game changing decisions like goals, penalty appeals, red card incidents and other crucial moments are considered to be review-able by this system.

The debate to use video replays in Football is not new. The arguments for the debate are ; use of such technology can affect the pace of the game and hence less fun for audience. On the other hand, a slight mistake from the referee can change the fate of the game.

Because of the former argument; VARs are being tested for the initial duration of 2 years. To find out how they effect the pace and flow of the game. The current president of FIFA Gianni Infantino released a statement in the FIFA magazine about it, “ It’s important, even crucial, to see what kind of impact VARs will have on the flow of the game. One of the peculiarities of football is its flow — it doesn’t stop, like many other sports where you have the time to look at videos. If the flow can be guaranteed, then we can see how technology can help the game. But we need to start with serious tests sooner rather than later.”

Usage of VARs so far

The usage of video replay is limited so far. It has been used in only two game of United Soccer League (USL). The first match was between New York Red Bulls II(NYRBII) and Orlando City B. Video replays were used once in each half of the game. None of the usage lead to the game changing factors. However, during the second match between NYRBII and Louisville City FC, a game changing penalty was awarded to NYRBII.

The point here is clear that VARs are supposed to be used during the live matches for the game changing decisions which can affect the result of a match.

Here’s a video of first time usage of the video replay technology;

Fans, critics and traditionalists are of the view that not each and every decision can be up for review. IFAB technical director David Elleray cleared that only the ‘clear errors’ in certain match-changing situations will be considered for VARs like handball goal for Peru that eliminated Brazil from Copa America in 2016.

Time Factor

It will be fair to say that VARs will be able to aim for both efficiency and accuracy while measuring the impact on the flow of the game. However, referee’s importance will not be undermined because of VARs. It will be there for referee to make better decisions.

Another important factor will be considered in the experiment is the time taken to use such a video technology. In the first live test conducted by IFAB, the VARs process took more than 95 seconds in both the instances during the USL match between NYRBII and Orlando City B. Some may consider this quite long. But it is interesting to note that in early (though unofficial) experiments, both MLS and the Dutch Football Association found that VARs need anything between 5 to 60 seconds. So it is possible to speed up the VARs process in a way that does not hamper flow, especially since the IFAB’s 24- month VARs experiment is just two games old.

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If the VARs tests are successful, it will be groundbreaking for world soccer, because as a sport it will head towards more fairness and precision. And at the same time it will keep the flow intact.

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