The possibility of having video assistant referees (VARs) in football continues to move forward with The IFAB and FIFA working closely with interested league and association stakeholders at a third workshop in Zurich on 27 and 28 October.

With previous workshops held in the Netherlands and the United States and live match tests in the USA’s Major League Soccer as well as during a friendly between Italy and France last month, there were a number of educational and training points communicated to the representatives from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, Qatar and the USA.

With IFAB Technical Director David Elleray leading the way in the education of match officials and FIFA’s Head of Football Technology Innovation Johannes Holzmüller focussing on implementation procedures and the technology setup, the hope is that those in attendance will “continue working together and moving in the right direction,” as Elleray said on Thursday at the Home of FIFA.

“Minimum interference for maximum benefit”
With direct experience now at both the refereeing and video review ends of the process, several new points were emphasised to those in attendance. The over-riding philosophy was “Minimum interference for maximum benefit” with a focus on how to address “clear errors in match-changing situations.”

With experienced referees, refereeing administrators and project managers present and weighing in, the goal for the future is, as Elleray put it, “to keep the flow and emotions of the game, while orrecting clear errors in match-changing incidents.” To that end, several operational and organisational changes were suggested, including the introduction of an Assistant VAR (AVAR) to help the VAR in monitoring and communication, changes to how communication should take place between the video operation room and the pitch and the process for when a referee should review the footage directly (an OFR, or on-field review).

Before an afternoon session that saw some staged match situations where participants could follow the referees closely or sit with the reviewer of the video replays and learn how the quick interactions between the two should take place, the group also saw illustrations of incidents when the VAR might be of significant use. While stressing that well over 95% of decisions do not qualify for the VAR, Elleray said that goals, penalty kicks, direct red cards and cases of mistaken identity were the incidents where a review involving VAR might help most directly reduce serious missed incidents.

Technological transparency
Elleray also stressed that there would be a long-range learning curve for referees to feel comfortable with the process as all of the representatives work to agree on a consistent protocol for what can and can’t be reviewed and the best processes within that. Keeping the decision-making power in the hands of the referee and keeping them free from unnecessary distractions and challenges to their authority was also stressed as vital.

Determining which decisions are open to VAR intervention and on-field review was a topic of discussion as was the meaning of “clear error,” which was defined as decisions when “almost everyone who is neutral agrees the decision is incorrect.” Likewise, there was much interest in the best work-flow and communication policies using the technology available, which was based on systems created by companies Hawk-Eye and ChyronHego (currently set up for demonstration purposes at the VAR Training Center at the Home of FIFA).

“We discussed with the project managers the technological setup of the VAR Systems to ensure that the best camera angles will be provided in the fastest possible time to the VARs and the referee on the pitch,” said FIFA’s Holzmüller. “For this, two technology providers presented their devices for the on-field review by the referee and the location for this review process were discussed with the different stakeholders. In addition to that, first ideas of how spectators in the stadium and TV viewers could be informed that a review process is going on were exchanged among the participants of this workshop."

The IFAB, or International Football Association Board, is the independent organisation responsible for maintaining and updating football’s rules. In March of 2016, the body, which is made up of representatives from the FAs of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and FIFA in consultation with the football community at large, decided to investigate whether VAR would be feasible in football with an eye to approving the process of introducing such technology in 2018 or 2019.