FIFA certifies VAR systems under new global quality standard
From 16 to 18 August in Stockholm, Sweden, the FIFA Quality Programme hosted a test event for VAR system providers to formally certify their systems, with providers from Europe and the USA participating.
Following its successful implementation at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ and the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™, the use of video assistant refereeing has rapidly accelerated. As of today, over 100 competitions have used or are using the technology to provide their referees with a supportive tool in potentially game-changing situations. With the certification of VAR systems under the new global quality standard of the FIFA Quality Programme, FIFA is taking the next step in providing competition organisers with guidance on the technical quality of different VAR systems.
Technical assessment of VAR systems
Using VAR technology in games still requires an extensive set-up including numerous computers, servers, screens and cables. While the development of smaller systems is progressing and the first tests using VAR Light systems are under way, the focus of the FIFA Quality testing is to check the interaction of the whole set-up and the performance of the system in three main areas: latency, synchronicity and video quality.
One of the biggest risks with VAR systems is the possibility of delayed video feeds preventing the VAR from intervening in time. This is therefore tested with a number of latency measurements to ensure that providers can both deliver the broadcast feed with minimal to no delay and equally present a review screen with a three-second delay to the video match officials. All of these tests are carried out using the light source from a flashing stroboscope to exactly measure the time difference between the event occurring and when it shows up on the screen.
VAR providers must be able to ensure that the camera feeds that they display to the VAR are in sync. This is particularly important for scenarios that require views from multiple camera angles, such as with offsides, where the footage of the ball being played and the actual potential offside situation are frequently best identified in two different camera feeds. A lack of synchronicity could lead to erroneous decisions. Using the same test set-up with the stroboscope and repetitive flashes, this test validates whether the flashes appear on the same frames across all camera feeds provided by the VAR systems.
The final test ascertains that the quality of the footage provided to the VAR remains high when ingested into the VAR system and then played back. This is to ensure that the video match officials have the best possible chance of making the correct decision and are not working off degraded (compressed) footage. With football matches being produced in different video formats across the globe, VAR systems need to process these signals while still providing high-quality video outputs to the VARs.
Ingesting two different video formats (interlaced and progressive) into the VAR systems, this test measures the quality of the videos that are provided as output. Using the well-established Video Multimethod Assessment Fusion (VMAF) standard, a perceptual algorithm developed by Netflix, the quality of the videos can be assessed and scored as a percentage of the native video.
FIFA certification as of July 2022 and transition period
Following the certification of VAR systems under the new global quality standard, the use of a FIFA-certified system will become mandatory from July 2022. From this date, FIFA will validate compliance with this requirement as part of the Implementation Assistance and Approval Programme (IAAP) for competitions that have not previously introduced VARs. Organisers of competitions for which the use of VAR systems has already been approved (or is subsequently approved ahead of the July 2022 deadline) will benefit from a transition period from the current system to the new mandatory certifications and will therefore be able to keep operating under their existing agreement. During the transition period, the provider must seek certification at one of the next FIFA VAR technology test events.
To give other VAR providers the opportunity to have their systems certified, FIFA will organise the next test event at the beginning of 2022. Providers can already express their interest or request further information about the Quality Programme by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.