VAR: like it or not it is here to stay – Part One

Whether you approve or not, have doubts about how it will change the flow and pace of Premier League matches, the Video Assistant Referee is here to stay – well at least until further notice.

As part of the EPL VAR educational programme, FT Board member Steve Moulds along with other FSA PL Network members, attended an information and demonstration session at IMG HQ, Stockley Park.

The session began with a presentation on how the EPL expect VAR to operate for the 2019/20 season. Based on IFAB (International Football Association Board) protocols, the aim is for VAR to have “minimum interference – maximum benefit”.

EPL advise this means they want on-field referees and assistants to control the game, have primacy over decisions and for VAR to have “minimum intervention”. They are well aware of the shortcomings highlighted by the use of VAR at the men’s World Cup tournament last year, and more recent controversies at the women’s World Cup. EPL claim they have been adapting protocols and training of on-field and VAR officials so that the pace and tempo of matches will not be effected. Of course, this remains to be seen in practice – the demonstrations were certainly convincing.

It is worth pointing out that EPL’s own data indicates that on-field refs currently get 82% of their decisions right with assistant’s decisions at 79%. Whilst they make no claim that VAR will make decision 100% accurate, they do believe that they can raise the level to 95%.

VAR Principles

On what basis can VAR be used? Alongside commitments to improve accuracy of decisions and keeping the pace of the game, there are a few key principles:

·         VAR can be used for ‘clear and obvious errors’ or ‘serious missed incidents’ in four match changing situations – goals, penalties, direct red cards, mistaken identity.

·         VAR will automatically check these situations – refs do not have to signal for VAR checks.

·         The final decision is always taken by the on-field referees.

·         Players must always play to the whistle.

·         VAR officials are part of the select group and are subject to the same disciplinary procedures as on-field referees.

In relation to the first bullet point, VAR can be used for:

·         Goals – offside, fouls, ball out of play.

·         Red cards – incidents for direct reds and not second yellow cards.

·         Penalties – awarded or not awarded; players inside or outside the penalty area; foul by attacking player; ball out of play.

·         Mistaken identity – red or yellow card issued to the wrong player.

The above principles and interventions mainly deal with ‘factual’ errors e.g. it is clear if the wrong player had been carded or if the ball is out of play. VAR can also assist with more subjective decisions such as disciplinary interventions:

·         Simulation – penalty awarded but review shows clear simulation; red card issued but review shows clear simulation.

·         Goal – attacker deliberately handles the ball into the net.

·         Violent conduct – review identifies missed red card; when read card is issued, the opponent can also be cautioned if the review identifies a yellow card offence.

·         Serious foul play – review identifies red card offence, a red card is issued; a red card is issued but on review downgraded to a yellow.

·         Denying obvious goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) – review identifies red card offence.

EPL realise that some of these decisions will remain controversial. Every yellow card decision will not be checked, that will remain with the on-field referee (unless VAR deems it to be a missed red card offence). VARs have been set what has been termed a “high bar” for subjective intervention, with the on-field referees decision taking primacy. For example, if a ref issues a red card, it will take a ‘clear and obvious error’ for that to be overturned.

Part two of the article will be published on Wednesday July 31st and explains the VAR Matchday operation