At the end of the first-ever VAR Instructor course put on by FIFA in Madrid this past week, legendary referee and current Chairman of FIFA’s Refereeing Committee Pierluigi Collina spoke with FIFA.com about the importance of the event, the state of VAR and where the technology might go in the future.
FIFA.com: Mr Collina, can you describe why this seminar was organised? Collina: It came about because FIFA received many requests from Member Associations after the success of VAR at the FIFA World Cup in Russia, and they were interested in the implementation process for their domestic competitions. At the moment it’s quite difficult to have VAR instructors because VAR is something very new. We decided to create a panel of instructors that could help implement VAR around the world. The VAR Instructor seminar was arranged this week in Madrid with some former referees and some active referees who had experience with VAR in their countries or were with us during the preparation of the 2018 World Cup.
What did that training look like? Some of 40 candidates who went through the programme. It included theoretical lessons and also practical sessions with the VAR simulator, which reproduces exactly the VOR – the Video Operation Room, which is used during the match – using clips of matches already played. Then we had a practical sessions on the field with players creating planned incidents with decisions taken by the referee, who is in touch with the VOR where our instructor candidates were, so they learned how the VAR operates in a variety of situations and will be able to coach and instruct others to use the system in the future.
Is this likely to be repeated in the future? At the moment, related to the specific matter of VAR, there are very few instructors capable, and we wanted to make that group bigger. In terms of the future, VAR should become even more popular, so it’s possible we will do it again based on the needs. There are several Member Associations who clearly say they are keen to start, plus Confederations, including AFC who said they will use VAR in the Asian Cup in January next year, and UEFA have said they will use it in the next Champions League. So where there is a need to prepare the referees for these competitions, we as FIFA are happy to provide support and help.
Beyond training referees, what are the challenges for VAR? The Technical Innovation Department at FIFA also give support in terms of the technology. VAR has two different parts: one is the human part, and that is the referees, and one is concerning technology. And of course we are not an expert in that, and so whenever an MA wants to implement something, the Technology Innovation Department can give knowledge and expertise and advise how to deal with the challenges the MA can face.
Also it’s important to note that VAR is not something that works in the same way for everyone. At the World Cup we had four video match officials in the VOR while most domestic competitions use only two. There are also decentralised and centralised versions. In Russia we had one VOR in Moscow, which is similar to how it is run in Germany and Spain where it is also centralised. On the other hand, in Italy they have a decentralised version with one VOR, one room, in each venue. Also, in Russia we had more than 40 TV cameras. There are some leagues with just 12 or 13, so for the former you need more people to analyse all the angles quickly. With less cameras, you need less people. It’s something that is flexible and adaptable depending on the needs to the competition.
How do you see VAR moving forward in terms of helping referees? Could it be expanded further? We have just completed an experiment this past March when the IFAB decided to include VAR in in the Laws of the Game so the history is quite short. The first time we discussed about a video technology which could have assisted referees was in November 2014, so less than four years ago. VAR is very very young. Based on the experience we have had and continue to have, we can certainly think about amendments and adjustments in certain details, though I don’t see the big picture changing.
What are you looking for in these instructors? Every instructor has to be able to communicate something which has to be understood. We are very pleased because the vast majority of the people we had at this seminar were very very good. The quality of the people, who were pre-selected to attend, was high. The challenge for them is that VAR is still a new tool and it is still something that needs to be learned and known about at a deeper level. But at the end of the seminar, the feeling I have is very positive.