What is VAR in Soccer?

In professional soccer, four referees are on the soccer field to monitor and oversee the events of the game. They include the main referee who enforces the laws of the game on the pitch, two linesmen who are well placed to see offside runs, and the fourth referee who is near the dugout to manage substitutions.

This was the case in the past but evolution in technology has resulted in the services of a 5th referee who is the VAR, video assistant referee. 

With VAR, there is a central location where the events of the game are being monitored with multiple camera angles to help slow down, zoom in and analyze questionable plays and decisions. 

Decisions here being that we’ve seen cases where the decision of the main referee on the pitch was reviewed and annulled by the video assistant referee. The main referee on the field is in constant communication with the VAR team replay operator to ensure that errors are reviewed and calls are changed.

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VAR in soccer has been of huge help since its official implementation in soccer across major leagues, tournaments, etc. It has been a necessity and has enhanced the integrity of the game since its introduction and in this article, you’ll get ideal answers to the question of; What is VAR in soccer?

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History of the VAR System in Soccer

The VAR system was first used in the 2012/13 season in the Referee 2.0 project in the Netherlands’ elite league, the Eredivisie. They shared the results of the outcome of the VAR tests with the Football Association Board (IFAB). IFAB decided that the technology was ready to be implemented in a friendly game after some tests and trials.

VAR’s first trial took place in July 2016 between PSC and FC Eindhoven. It was subsequently used during a Major League Soccer in 2006. The successful calls of the VAR in the replay review resulted in its use in the 2016 FIFA World Cup to assist referees in making calls and decisions.

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Developments progressed and the technology was added to the laws of the game by IFAB in 2018.

Why was VAR introduced to Soccer? 

The relationship between technology and sport cannot be overstated. For instance, technological gadgets and platforms have made it possible for fans of various sports to have access to games and normally pick up foul play and questionable rules than officials as they have excellent camera angles.

For instance, in the 2018/19 soccer season, officials in the Premier League got just 82% of decisions at most. However, when VAR came into play, the correct calls increased to 94% according to statistics. \

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In the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, with the aid of VAR, 17 out of 20 calls were gotten correctly thereby enhancing the integrity of the game and the tournament at large.

We’ve seen some hand of God cases that had a significant effect on the game of soccer. If VAR was in place at the time, justice would have run its course in those games. We saw how Thierry Henry’s handball took France to the World Cup in 2010 at the expense of Ireland. 

There’s also Maradona’s hand of God that ensured that Argentina progressed to the semifinals ahead of England in the 1986 World Cup. If VAR was in place, the pains of these events would have been prevented and the integrity of the game maintained in those instances.

What Does the Video Assistant Referee Review? – How does VAR work?

Find below, a breakdown of how VAR works.

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  • Goal or no goal: – VAR does a thorough check on if a ball has completely crossed the goal line to be ruled as a goal or not. It also reviews handball situations that are preceded by a goal. The goalkeeper’s positioning on the goal line can also be reviewed.
  • Red Card Decisions: If a questionable red card is brandished to a player during a game, the VAR team can review the incident to see if it warrants a red or yellow. We’ve also seen situations where a yellow card brandished by a referee to a player is replaced with a red when the VAR system deems that the incident is worth a dismissal.
  • Penalty Decisions/Offsides: A penalty can be awarded although it was not given initially as the referee missed it after a VAR review.
  • Cases of a wrong identity: If a yellow card or red card is given to the wrong player, the VAR team can review the incident and ensure that the right culprit is punished for his offense.

How the Referee Communicates with the VAR Team

As we mentioned earlier, the referee is in constant communication with the VAR team during a soccer game and this is made possible with the aid of an earpiece. The VAR team can alert the referee on an incident during the game and the referee can ask the team to help him with a review. 

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The review can be quick or may take a while in some situations. Sometimes it doesn’t result in a stoppage and fans won’t be aware of the communication in the course of the game. Meanwhile, one thing can be noted. 

The final decision after a review is down to the referee and they decide how they want to go about an on-field review.

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Is there a Time Limit in VAR?

There is no actual time stipulated for VAR calls and decisions to be made and this is one of the reasons why the technology has attracted criticism. Regardless, with the number of personnel involved in the observations, it takes minutes at most for the right calls to be made eventually.

Where is the location of VAR?

The video operating room is located in the stadium where the game is taking place or nearby.

Can Soccer Players Request VAR to Review a Play?

No, they can’t, If a soccer player insists that VAR should be done, or makes the TV box symbol with their hands indicating that the referee should carry out a VAR check, they will be cautioned with a yellow card.

How Does the Referee Signal a VAR Check?

The referee does this by placing his or her hand on their earpiece and then making a hand gesture of an imaginary rectangular box. 

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Meanwhile, a VAR check must be preceded by an initial decision by the referee during the game. If a referee does not make a decision on call, he can’t request a VAR review.

What does the VAR Team Look Like? 

The VAR team watches multiple angles of play during a soccer game. the team consists of a lead assistant video referee and three assistant video referees, alongside some replay operators that control the camera to ensure that the most accurate view of an incident is captured during a game. 

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The VAR room also includes a FIFA official who broadcasts the video review to the referee and fans of the stadium. 

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With these measures in place, the process is very transparent and ensures that the fans see what the officials are reviewing with their camera angles. The VAR review comes with three messages namely;

  • A yellow message indicates that there is a delay in the review
  • A red message indicates that the call is being studied
  • The green message shows the decision, the new outcome.

You should also know that there is a Referee Review Area and this is where the referee head to if wants to watch a video review of a questionable incident. 

They do this to enhance their understanding of the VAR team’s review to ensure that the right decision is taken. 

Can Fans See the Video Replay of VAR at a Game?

The answer is Yes! Soccer fans in the stadium or watching on the TV will see the review on the big screen. The screen comprises three videos. 

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One will show the play under review, the second shows the referee analyzing the incident and the third shows the control team providing the TV signal to enable fans to see the ongoing action.

Disadvantages of VAR

The technology comes with a few demerits but they are mostly on the field of play.

For fans, a pause in the action can dampen the momentum of the game. It can increase anxiety and tension as fans would be on the edge of their seat when action is ongoing as they wait for the referee to make a call on their original decision.

It can also dampen the efforts of a team that is in the ascendancy and could allow their opponents to regroup during a game. The technology also comes with its share of drama as decisions go up and down during a game.

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Summary: What is VAR in Soccer?

VAR stands for Video Assistant Referee and is a technology that enhances the chances of the right calls being made by the referee during a game. It ensures that every foul play on the pitch is carefully analyzed and the right penalty incurred by the defaulting party. 

It is in use in the elite soccer leagues in Europe and in most of the notable tournaments across the world. The technology comes with its benefits and demerits but recent trends have shown the merits outweigh the demerits.