Video Assistant Referee (VAR) at the FIFA World Cup

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The revolutionary VAR system has been implemented this time around. What is it like?

By definition, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is a football assistant referee who reviews decisions made by the head referee with the use of video footage and a headset for communication. In reality, it has been so much more than that. The VAR has managed to reduce the number of contentious decisions that are being taken in World Football.

The basics of the VAR system are simple. There are only 4 kinds of calls/decisions that can be investigated or overturned by the VAR. These being,

  • Goals and whether there was a violation during the build-up
  • Penalty decisions
  • Direct red card decisions (second yellow cards are not reviewable)
  • Mistaken identity in awarding a red or yellow card

The VAR system works in 3 basic steps:

  1. INCIDENT OCCURS: The referee informs the VAR or the VAR recommends to the referee that a decision/incident should be reviewed.
  2. REVIEW AND ADVICE BY THE VAR: The video footage is reviewed by the VAR, who advises the referee via headset what the video shows.
  3. DECISION OR ACTION IS TAKEN: The referee decides to review the video footage on the side of the field of play before taking the appropriate action/decision, or the referee accepts the information from the VAR and takes the appropriate action/decision.


To get a slight idea of just how much of a difference the system has made, the total number of penalty kicks awarded in the whole of the last FIFA World Cup was 13. This time around, with the help of VAR, 27 penalties have been awarded, and the tournament hasn’t even entered the Quarter Final stages.

The point of the VAR system is to ensure that the referees are being aided in making crucial decisions and to ensure that no team has to suffer due to an error in spotting or judgment by the on-ground refereeing team.

To realize the positive impact that VAR has made on the game, here are three examples from the past where the use of VAR could have helped a team avoid a heart-breaking loss:

  • England vs Germany, 2010 (FIFA World Cup 2010)

No England fan will forget that game. From going 2-1 down, Matthew Upson’s header dragged them back into the game, and then Frank Lampard picked up the ball outside the box and let loose a fierce shot. The ball bounced over the line completely (corroborated by multiple replays) but was picked up by Manuel Neuer and the goal was not awarded. Germany went on to win 4-1.

  • Chelsea vs Barcelona, 2009 (UEFA Champions League semi-final)

This game led to the officiating referee having to completely quit the game and seek protection from thousands of death threats that were directed at him. With no exaggeration involved, Chelsea deserved to be awarded at least 3 penalties in the game, with fouls varying from blatant hand-balls to wrestling-style takedowns on the Chelsea players that were all waved away by the referee. Chelsea was knocked out in the semis.

  • The Republic of Ireland vs France, 2009 (FIFA World Cup qualifying playoff)

The Irish played France in a 2-legged tie, whose winner would go on to play at the FIFA World Cup in 2010. With the tie poised delicately at 1-1, with bare minutes to go, Thierry Henry handled the ball inside the area, which led to a goal from William Gallas. Henry even admitted after the game that he had used his hand. Ireland was devastated and robbed of their spot in the biggest tournament in the world.

To sum up, the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee has been good for the game. The ability of referees to reconfirm their decisions and to be able to access replays before making crucial calls has made the game better. If there was one drawback, however, it was summed up by Premier League legend Alan Shearer, who feels that the number of stoppages is slowing the game down. The logic behind his reasoning is that so many stoppages reduce the pace and tempo of the game. It is true, there are instances where high-intensity moves have been cut short for a VAR referral that may or may not change something in the game. However, the pros of the system do outweigh the cons because of the great help it provides officials with crucial calls.

The overall outlook on the VAR system has been positive; teams and officials alike have noticed that it helps out with major decisions, while also making sure that no grievous offense goes unpunished. The system is in its early implementations stages, and even though it may take a little more time to integrate it seamlessly into the game, the use of VAR is definitely the way forward for a cleaner and more fair game of football.

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