The Virtual Assistant Referee (VAR) system has become an essential part of decision-making in football (soccer for y’all). It has significantly improved the quality of referee decisions on the pitch. It was piloted in the Eredivisie (Netherlands Football top flight) in 2013 and approved by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) in 2016 strongly backed by current FIFA president Gianni Infantino. The tech made its world debut at the FIFA 2018 World Cup in Russia.
While initially criticized for creating confusion and taking up too much time in terms of decision making, the system has gradually gained acceptance with the FIFA 2018 World Cup being hailed the “cleanest since 1986” with 300-plus incidences captured. So how does the technology behind VAR work? Is it the same thing as goal-line technology?
Writing a technical essay on a system like VAR with all its components isn’t easy pickings. Students struggling with a research paper of this kind will be better off hiring a paper writer with a background in technology, for example in information management systems. If this is your kind of thing read the rest of this article to find out how the tech works.
System and Review Process
VAR supports official match referees from a centralized video control room, which is usually one centralized station connected to control rooms within various stadiums or venues possible around a country. The system is composed of an array of cameras including 2 offside cameras that can generate different shots that will help review and determine specific match-changing incidences. The system is composed of 1 video assistant referee and three assistant referees. Four additional replay operators may be deployed. Official feeds are all generated from the centralized control room to the match venues.
Possible match-changing situations have monitored that include:
- goals and events leading up to a goal
- penalty decisions and events leading up to a penalty
- direct red card incidences
- cases of mistaken identity
- serious violations that weren’t captured by match officials.
The referee can delay at any point of the match to communicate with the VAR team if deemed necessary. The referee does this through the use of different hand motions. For example, VAR CHECK: the referee stops play by pointing finger to ear and extending the other arm to communicate with the VAR assistants, VAR REVIEW: referee outlines a TV signal). The referee makes a decision based on the information received from the VAR team or can seek further clarification from the referee review area.
A FIFA staff member will have direct access to the operation room and the output terminals, monitoring all communications between the referee and the assistants. This staff member is responsible for generating official VAR match information via a networked touch tablet that is linked to the network relay. This information is then streamed to the venue screen display system or web commentary systems. The information provided to media persons, match commentators, and producers is updated and detailed constantly. The web relay also goes to FIFA.com and the FIFA app, providing live feeds.
Color codes are normally employed. For example, yellow coded messages may indicate that there is a potential delay in the match due to an ongoing review. Red messages may show the official review given. Green messages may indicate the official review given.
An array of wide-angle cameras throughout the stadium is employed. The output is relayed to the giant screens inside the match stadium. A picture-in-picture solution is normally employed by the host broadcast team to show different takes of the match-replays, live group shots, and closeups of the players and technical benches. Once the official review is initiated by the match referee, the picture-in-picture composite is initiated, including informative graphics.
VAR and Goal Line Technology
Goal-line technology also uses an array of cameras (could be 14 or more) placed at specific locations around a match stadium. These cameras track the movement of the ball rather than incidences on the pitch. The system is certified to FIFA quality standards. The camera array is dynamically linked to the goalposts that also have sensors. When the ball crosses this line the system is triggered. While VAR and goal-line technology are distinct techs they can be employed simultaneously within a match.
Is VAR Being Used in The United States?
The system is designed to increase awareness and fairness in the game, and could potentially be employed for different kinds of sport. The technology has been used in Major League Soccer since the 2017 season. It has also been employed in the ICC cricket test series and the rugby league. The key hindrance to the technology is the cost necessary to fit venues including the control room and all the venues to be served, and training specialized manpower.