This year’s FIFA World Cup will be incredibly interesting – we’re missing some key plays (what happened the Netherlands?!), there are a number of real underdog teams playing (Panama’s first ever world cup), there’s even talk about England doing “ok” (and just when I told myself I wouldn’t get my hopes up this year … I guess we can also just resort to talking about the good old days back in ’66 again if we need to!) but the biggest game changer this year has got to be the introduction of the use of VAR.
At SP, we love football and we’re excited about the advancements that video technology can bring to the game, so here’s a little overview on the technology that’s been causing so much controversy.
What is VAR?
VAR – Video Assistant Referee – has been said to give the games “more accurate decisions, more often and at the most important points in the match”.
A current or former top referee will be the VAR, if the on-pitch referee requires a second pair of eyes on objective calls they will be able to communicate via an ear piece. The VAR may also reach out to the on-pitch referee if they notice any clear, obvious errors.
The four areas that the VAR will be utilised for are:
- Goals (including looking for any unnoticed pre-goal attacking offences)
- penalties (both awarded and not awarded)
- Direct red cards
- Mistaken identity errors (where the wrong player is given a red or yellow card)
As well as utilising the VAR re-watch of videoed footage, the on-pitch referee can also decide to review video footage at the side of the pitch. Allowing incidents to be instantly replayed and the referee to make a, potentially, more accurate judgement call. Referees in Russia will be allowed to give out red cards for off-the-ball incidents through VAR. This means that players can be sent off if incidents are picked up by the monitors.
The VAR has until the next time the game restarts to flag and incident and intervene and, on average, it takes about two-and-a-half minutes for play to recommence after the game is stopped. Unlike tennis, Managers or players will not be able to appeal to have an incident reviewed. All final decisions will sit with the on-field referee.
How does it work?
The technology for the VAR has been provided by Hawk-Eye. Hawk-Eye are a leading innovator within sports technology. Their Electronic Line Calling is being utilised in over 80 events in the tennis calendar and they have been involved in many tennis tournaments, including Wimbledon, since 2002.
For VAR, the Hawk-Eye SMART replay will be used. SMART stands for Synchronised Multi-Angle Replay Technology. It works by taking the broadcast camera feeds and providing the officials with a number of different camera angles. The footage can then be used by the external video official, who can report findings back to the on-pitch referee, or the footage can be viewed by the on-pitch referee (so far, an on-field review has only taken place in one out of every three games).
Hawk Eye will also be providing the Goal Line Technology for the World Cup. 7 cameras are placed in each goal and as soon as the system detects a ball crossing the line, an alert is sent to the officials wrist-watch. Goal Line Technology was introduced in the 2014 Brazil World Cup and used successfully in all 64 matches. The use of VAR is definitely the next step in introducing technology to the beautiful game.
Where else is it used?
VAR was trialled for the first time in the UK this year following successful tests at the Club World Cup in Japan in December 2016 and domestic competitions in Germany, US and Italy. Results have shown that VAR has been 98.9% accurate in decisions making so far. However, football is quite late to the party with the use of high-tech referee aids, with the sport resisting the use of instant replays for years.
Other sports that already use the instant replay and other referee tech aids are:
- Basketball (replay systems help to ensure that players are shooting within the correct timeframe),
- International cricket (a third umpire may sit with TV screens, allowing them to replay certain scenarios like disputed catches and boundaries),
- Tennis (line review systems allow players to contest line calls),
- Aussie Rules Football (an off-field umpire is able to adjudicate on whether the call has past the goal line),
- Baseball (replays can be used to challenge certain umpire decisions),
- Rugby Union (improving referee decision making as well as allowing medical teams to assess player safety, identifying possible concussion or behind-play incidents)
- Rugby league (video referee can help identify questionable tries)
What are the complications?
The complications that have been incurred so far seem to stem from camera angles/obstructions. Things that are missed are either because they’ve happened in an angle not available to the VAR or something (such as a line flag) has been in front of the camera when an incident has taken place.
There is also still a lot of controversy around the use of VAR with some of the players being unhappy about its use.
Sami Khedira, the German midfielder, has stated: “At the moment it’s a disaster. It’s all a big jumble. The players do not know any more whether or not to celebrate after a goal. A lot of emotion and passion has been lost.”
There are concerns around this technological advancement not actually adding the clarity it sets out to and even making the game play out in a more clunky manner. There definitely seems to be some evidence that VAR can be over-used in games and that a balance needs to be struck to ensure the game is still able to play as it should.
What should we expect to happen to VAR at future football games?
Like most industries at this point in time, advancements in technology mean that, where possible, automation is being put in place. Freeing up people, time, costs and reducing the chance of human-error.
Should we expect to see that VAR will head this way in the future? Reducing the need for a second, paid referee by having a computer in place that will recognise and alert if they see anything of note? With the on-pitch referee still able to review the footage on the pitch side line, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched or far from realisation in my eyes.