For the first time in the history of the World Cup, a system known as Video Assistant Referee (VAR) will be used to help avoid game-changing mistakes by match officials. This technology was approved last March following a unanimous vote taken by lawmakers during a meeting in Zurich. Needless to say, the decision has sparked controversy, with some believing in its potential to eliminate mistakes and others fearing that it will lead to confusion and disrupt the flow of matches.
A VAR, or Video Assistant Referee, consists of a team which will support match officials during matches using video technology located inside a video operation room. The technology consists of a number of cameras displaying the match in slow motion from different angles.
VAR technology has already been used in certain domestic cup matches in England this season as well as in Germany’s Bundesliga. A live trial system started in August 2016 with the United Soccer League match between two reserve sides. It was trialled for the first time in the UK during the 2017-18 FA Cup match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Crystal Palace. The technology has also been used at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, and at the FIFA U-20 World Cup last October.
The VAR in Mocow will consist of a team of top FIFA officials located inside a centralized video operation room in Moscow. One person will act as VAR and will watch the main camera while being responsible for leading the rest of the team, which consists of three Assistant VARs as well as replay operators. The team shall have access to 33 cameras, 8 of them in super slow-motion and six of them in ultra-slow-motion, plus two offside cameras.
The video assistant referee doesn’t take any decisions, but instead may recommend that the match referee should review a decision. In this case, the video footage is reviewed. First the VAR team reviews the footage and communicates with the referee, then the referee himself may decide to review it on the side of the field before taking his decision. Alternatively, the referee may immediately accept the information given by the VAR and decide accordingly.
According to FIFA, there are three main incidents which have been classified as game-changing and where VAR technology may help. These are goals, penalty decisions and red card incidents. In all cases, the VAR is there to ensure that no wrong decisions are made. One other case when the VAR may be used relates to mistaken identity, in case the referee disciplines the wrong player.
During all matches, the referee may delay a restart in order to communicate with the VAR. Referees will be signalling that this communication is taking place by pointing to their ears. However, this isn’t considered to be an official VAR review yet. The referee has to make another signal in the shape of a rectangle with his two hands to indicate that play has been interrupted to review a decision.
FIFA has also developed a VAR information system for broadcasters and spectators. During each World Cup match, a FIFA staff member will inform the broadcasters, commentators and those responsible for infotainment about the review process, and will provide information about the reasons for the review and its outcome via a networked touch tablet. The person operating this tablet will be located inside the video operation room. VAR-specific graphic templates for TV and the stadiums' giant screens will also be automatically created via the VAR information system.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has expressed his delight at the decision to use VAR during the World Cup and believes that it will lead to fairer matches. According to him "Video refereeing will bring much more to the transparency of football. It isn't going to be the solution to everything in football - what we want to do is avoid resounding mistakes by referees."
Trials have shown that VAR may significantly affect the outcome of the game, but some have expressed concern that VAR interrupts the flow and create confusion for both players and fans. UEFA have been sceptic about the technology, and have voted against its use during next season's Champions League. According to UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin "Fans see the VAR screen all the time but nobody knows how it works." He then went on to say that the system has great potential but that it shouldn't be rushed.
Like most new technologies, we will have to wait and see whether VAR will prove beneficial during this World Cup, but from the trials it has resulted that clear and swift communications with all parties is key to its success. In the meantime, for more updates and news about this year's World Cup, make sure you visit our World Cup 2018 Guide from time to time, where you'll find information about World Cup 2018 odds, World Cup 2018 predictions and more!
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