Video assistant referees have been used for the first time in a 'live' experiment in New Jersey, USA, during a workshop organised by The IFAB in cooperation with Major League Soccer (MLS).
The workshop is being held at Red Bull Arena from 19 to 21 July, with more than 20 leagues and associations in attendance as well as FIFA’s Refereeing and Football Technology Innovation Departments, given that FIFA is supporting The IFAB with technological expertise and research around the video assistant referee (VAR) project.
Competitions in six countries have already confirmed their participation in the two-year trials, which were approved at The IFAB Annual General Meeting in March 2016, while others still have time to join. Provided the initial tests go well, the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2016 is also set to feature VARs as part of The IFAB trials.
“Until now, the only experiments that have been conducted in the USA and the Netherlands and elsewhere have been ‘offline’,” says IFAB Secretary Lukas Brud.
“That means the video assistant referees have been able to familiarise themselves with the technological set-up, assess video replays and practice making decisions on crucial moments, but they have not been able to communicate with the referee. Now, thanks to the support of MLS and the New York Red Bulls, we are testing the technology in a live environment where the video assistant referee is communicating with the referee to help him reduce clear errors in game-changing incidents.”
Workshop participants are being shown how the VAR works in the control room and also how the main referee goes to the side of the pitch on certain occasions to review video footage on a playback device. In addition, attendees are given headsets to hear how the referee and VAR communicate with each other when an incident may need to be reviewed.
A key focus during the current preparation phase is ensuring that the participating competitions educate referees, VARs and technical staff in line with the protocol that was drawn up by The IFAB together with FIFA’s Football Technology Innovation Department. To support The IFAB in this respect, FIFA has decided to implement a VAR training facility at its headquarters in Zurich in the coming months.
In terms of the next steps, additional workshops and meetings – like the recent ones held in the Netherlands and Switzerland – are planned before offline experiments start in the participating countries from August, followed by live experiments in 2017. Based on feedback from the participating competitions, the results of research, and advice from its advisory panels, The IFAB is expected to take a decision in 2018 or 2019 on whether or not VARs should be introduced in football.
The IFAB, which is an independent organisation comprised of the football associations of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales as well as FIFA, is the only body authorised to decide on and agree changes to the Laws of the Game in consultation with the football community.