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

Trust Board member, Steve Moulds concludes his report on the EPL VAR educational programme, he attended along with other FSA PL Network members, attended an information and demonstration session at IMG HQ, Stockley Park.

VAR match day operation

Adam Watts, Select Group Director at PGMOL, explained how VAR will operate during matches.

There is currently a pool of 18 Select Group referees for EPL matches. The VAR will be from this group and referees will alternate between on-field duties and VAR duties. The aim here has been to build trust between refs at matches and refs on VAR duty.

The VAR will be stationed in the VAR Hub/Centre at IMG Studios in Stockley Park. This is a room with a workstation for each match configured with multiple screens for viewing the play from different angles. There are enough stations so that all matches on the final day of the season can have a separate workstation. There is also a separate booth were an overall supervisor monitors the decisions being taken by VAR referees.

At each workstation, there will be a VAR, a VAR’s assistant and a technician who operate the various camera angles and Hawkeye system. The technician has no input to the decision-making.

During the match, the VAR can hear the on-field referee’s microphone. The VAR watches the main TV feed (as you would view it at home) on a large screen (the assistant watches on their own screen). In front of the VAR are two buttons, one red, one green. If the VAR spots an incident for review, they hit the green button. This sends a bookmark to the technicians screen so they can identify the exact time point the incident occurs. The VAR hits the red button to communicate to the on-field referee a simple message, such as, “Hold play at next stoppage, looking at incident”.

The VAR then has around 80 seconds (on average) to view the incident on a four-way split screen. They ask the technician to replay the incident from multiple angles and close-ups. The VAR can discuss the incident with the VAR assistant but the on-field ref cannot hear any of this conversation. If the VAR is sure there is an incident or error worthy of correcting they will communicate this to the on-field referee.

Meanwhile the game will be proceeding until the next stoppage. Spectators will not be aware of most incidents under review unless the VAR deem it necessary. Spectators will be made aware of a review in progress via the big screens in the stadium that will feature EPL VAR branding and read, for example, “Checking red card”. Where there are no screens, e.g. Old Trafford, PA announcements will be made.

The ref will hold the game at an appropriate stoppage/dead ball (unless it is an off-the-ball incident when they can halt play). They will be informed of the VAR review decision. If it is a subjective review, the on-field referee can go over to the screen on the sidelines and review the incident in question. The on-field referee will then make the decision, using our example above, issuing a red card. The stadium screens will then display the message: “Red card” and will play video evidence of the incident – the hope being this will show supporters why the VAR has intervened and why a decision needs reversing or taking on-field.

Two things to note. The communications between the on-field referee and the VAR will not be made public (there are no plan for supporters to be able to listen to the ref’s mic at present, such as, the system used in rugby). On-field referees have been instructed to use the sideline screen only when absolutely necessary for subjective reviews, as their original decision should take primacy and to avoid the time taken for such reviews. However, where these reviews do take place, compensatory time will be added on at the end of a half.

Confused or convinced? Well the proof of all this, as they say, will be in the pudding. The EPL have embarked on an open educational programme for all those involved in the game, including players, managers and fans. Players have been warned that demanding VAR intervention will be viewed as dissent and will result in a yellow card.

Having seen the technology in operation, I am convinced it will help with improving the obvious inaccurate decisions. I was shown an offside situation. A 2D line drawn across the pitch indicated that the foot of the defender had played the attacker (who went on to score) onside. However, when the 3D crosshairs were used, it showed the torso of the attacker was offside – and so offside, no goal would have been awarded.

All goals will be reviewed for offside. Just to be clear, any part of the body that can be used to score can be deemed to be offside – apparently, the tricky bit comes when judging where the arm meets the shoulder!

And for those of you who think this is all unnecessary, there were 41 incorrect calls for offside last season – not bad out of all the EPL matches played. However, in 31 of those decisions they led to goals where teams were either level or behind by one goal – so VAR could have a decisive impact on a match outcome.

The good news is there are no plans to review every penalty to see if the goalkeeper has moved off the line by a centimetre (as per the women’s World Cup) – that decision will remain with the on-field officials. And one other thing, those useless goal line officials deployed in UEFA matches are history thanks to VAR – I was never really sure why they were there anyway.

When reviewing penalties, VAR will check for: Double touches by the kicker; feigning at the point of kicking; encroachment by other players who have a significant impact on subsequent events.

VAR will only have a small window in which to intervene for unseen incidents: ball in play – the next restart; ball out of play – the second restart.

VAR reviews can only go back as far as the phase of play that leads to the incident e.g. a goal but not multiple phases that lead to that incident nor from when a team takes possession if that includes multiple phases of play.