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Video Assistant Referee (VAR) Explained: What is it & how does it work?

With video technology now frequently called upon across Premier League matches, we answer all the key questions surrounding the use of the VAR.

What is VAR?

In a nutshell, VAR (Video Assistant Referee) is designed to assist the matchday officials in ensuring that the big on-field decisions are called correctly.

A team of three people are based in a Video Operation Room and can advise the referee on any decisions that he may have called incorrectly, or be unsure about. The team of VAR assistants do this by watching footage of the relevant occurrences with multi-angle replays.

VAR is used to review FOUR types of decisions:

- Goals and the violations that precede them
- Red cards
- Penalties
- Mistaken identity

On-field decisions made by the referee can be overturned, however it must be a ‘clear error’ on the referee’s part for this to happen.

The process for reviewing a decision works in one of two ways: 

- The VAR team can recommend a review
- The on-field referee can request a review after making a decision

In the former situation, if the VAR decides that a clear error has been made, he or she must notify the main referee.

Once this has happened, the referee has three options: 

- Immediately overturn the decision based on the VAR’s advice
- Stick with the original decision
- Review the incident themselves on a monitor on the side of the pitch

How does VAR work?

There are effectively three steps in the process of utilising VAR, these are:

The on-field incident: When an incident occurs and clarity is needed the referee either informs the VAR team of the need for assistance or the VAR will recommend that the referee reviews the incident. 

Review and advice by the VAR team: The video is then studied by the VAR, who notifies the main referee via headset what the footage shows.

Decision or action is taken: Before making a decision, the referee will opt to review the video footage via a pitch side monitor whilst in dialogue with the VAR team or go with the advice of the three-person VIA team and take the appropriate action.  

When can VAR be used?

As previously explained, VAR can be used to review FOUR types of decisions: 

- Goals and the violations that precede them
- Red cards
- Penalties
- Mistaken identity

Other incidents such as fouls outside of the penalty area and free-kick or corner kick decisions will generally not be reviewed unless they form part of the build-up to a goal or whereby the foul could be worthy of a red card.

Which English leagues use VAR?

At present only the Premier League operates VAR, although there have been calls for the Championship, at least, to follow suit.

VAR will also be used on every game at the Euros, including England games, but with a few minor tweaks to the way it will operate, including more assistants and quicker check times.

More information on how VAR will work at the Euros

Is it down to the referee to request use of VAR?

Not entirely. Whilst in the vast majority of cases the referee will request that the VAR team review an incident, it’s also not unusual for the VAR panel to recommend that the on-field referee reviews a decision.

Given the fact that VAR is only advisory, it is down to the referee to decide whether to take their advice or stick with the original on-field decision.

How are incidents reviewed?

The VAR team will either inform the referee that there has been a clear error which doesn’t require the need for the official does not need to review the footage (eg; when a player is clearly in an offside position when a goal was scored) or an on-field review will take place whereby the VAR team advises the referee to review footage on the pitch side monitor (eg; when a dubious offence from the attacking team could have been committed in the build-up to a goal). 

What happens when a decision is being reviewed by the VAR team?

The VAR team will study the footage and notify their findings to the referee through an earpiece. If this happens, the referee will notify the players by pointing to his ear or by making the official VAR review signal to show that a decision is being reviewed. 

He can then either review the incident on the side of the pitch or accept the VAR information and take the necessary action.

Do players and fans inside the stadium know when a decision is being reviewed?

The on-field referee will signal as usual for the decision or make a rectangle shape with their hands to either signal an on-field review or that the original decision has been changed. The decision is then also shown on screens around the stadium to communicate the final decision to spectators.

How far back can a decision be reviewed?

After an incident, the VAR team can intervene until the next time the game restarts. 

For example, if an incident is spotted by the VAR and the ball goes out of play, they must communicate with the referee to stop the game at that moment until they have dealt with it. 

Failure to do so, and allowing the game to recommence, would mean that the decision cannot be overturned.

VAR technical terms & abbreviations:

VAR (Video Assistant Referee; the main video official whose main responsibility is to check all reviewable incidents and recommend an on-field review where a possible clear and obvious error has occurred).

Check (Process in which VAR automatically inspects all reviewable decisions).

Clear and obvious error (Degree required for an on-field decision to be overturned).

OFR (On-Field Review; a review process that occurs following the recommendation of VAR).

RO (Replay Operator; non-referee officials who assists the videos officials by managing the broadcast and finding the best angles for replays).

RRA (Referee Review Area; the area in which an on-field review is conducted).

AVAR (Assistant VAR; official that assists the VAR by watching live action on the field while the VAR is undertaking a ‘check’ or ‘review’.

Video official (Category of match official, alongside on-field officials).

VOR (Video Operation Room; the room in which the VAR team is located – often in a centralised location such as a broadcast centre).

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