We mentioned it once – read here – but I think we got away with it!
Sunday’s World Cup final saw the referee using the VAR, viewing Ivan Perisic’s handball on the screen at the side of the pitch – the first time this has happened in football history – and awarding a penalty to France, giving them the advantage with a 2-1 lead.
This final use of VAR within the tournament has been somewhat controversial, not just because some people think that the handball was not intentional but also because the referee seemed to only doubt his initial decision (to not award a penalty) after the VAR suggested he took another look.
VAR has certainly given a different taste to this years World Cup, with statistics showing that 22 penalties have been awarded in this tournament, which is more than ever before. In comparison, in the 2014 Brazil World Cup there were only 12 penalties over the entire tournament. So it would seem that VAR is having a clear, game-changing effect on the matches.
How did VAR work?
A current or former top referee was the VAR and if the on-pitch referee required a second pair of eyes on objective calls, they were able to communicate via an ear piece. The VAR also reached out to the on-pitch referee if they noticed any clear, obvious errors.
The four areas that the VAR was utilised for were:
- 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’s re-watch the footage, the on-pitch referee could 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.
The VAR had access to all of the broadcast feeds, which gave them 40 camera angles and roughly 10-15 seconds to make a judgement call before pay would begin again and the opportunity to alert the on-pitch referee of any potential errors was lost.
What needs to be improved?
“I’m not sure they will be able to select the angles quickly enough to get the decision back to the referee before the game has been restarted.”
In order to display all of the possible camera angles to those in the VAR booths at one time, the monitors had been divided up, with each screen showing 9/10 different angles. It requires a certain focus to be able to scan the information across all of those screens in the small amount of time the VAR and his team have. Could this be an initial flaw?
Broadcasters and live television producers, people who have had years of experience in scanning, processing and selecting appropriate shots/camera angles, have the skills that are required for this type of quick, accurate selection. Is this new skill something that we presumed current/former referees should do because of their knowledge of the game without taking into account the extra skills that are required for this type of role?
What’s next for VAR?
Most of Europe’s major leagues have chosen to start using VAR in their upcoming season however, the major exception to the rule is the Premier League, where VAR will not be used in the next season. English clubs have voted for trials to be extended for another year. Some of the problems they would like to combat are around communication – how do they ensure that spectators are aware of the VAR decisions – others are around the guidelines for application and the potential for human error – what are the cut off points for interpretation i.e. how far back can you review video for moves that may be errors?
This year, Wimbledon used AI to help create selections of match highlights across all matches. Could this type of AI be utilised within the VAR workflow? Using machine learning to identify where the errors are taking place, highlighting this situation quicker than a human could and then showing the VAR 4/5 different camera angles rather than all 40? Would this lead to more opportunities identified? I guess only time will tell, but it will certainly be interesting to see how far the technology in this arena has come at the Euros in 2 years time.
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