The introduction of a video assistant referee (VAR) with access to camera angles the on-field referee doesn’t have, sees technology being used to help match officials make correct decisions.

Previously used in the German Bundersliga and Italy’s Seria A, the technology was used for the first time in a competitive UK match during  the Brighton vs Crystal Palace FA Cup third-round tie shown on BT Sport in early January.

We went behind the scenes at the match to find out what BT Sport’s Rio Ferdinand, Jake Humphrey, special guest Dennis Wise and ex-referee Graham Poll think of the technology. Check out the video below to find out more.

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For the purposes of neutrality, the VAR can’t be located at the ground, and so is based at the FA’s offices in Stockley Park. There they can watch the game from a special room on a system which gives them access to multiple camera angles.

The VAR can monitor only four key types of decision. If the VAR thinks the referee has made an error, he can advise the referee to review what’s happened. The four decisions monitored by VAR are:

  • Awarding goals
  • Penalty kicks
  • Direction red card decisions
  • Mistaken identity

When the referee taps his ear it signals he is talking to the VAR. Next he’ll draw a rectangular TV screen shape in mid-air, indicating that the incident is being reviewed. Once the VAR offered their opinion, the referee will either follow their advice or, in the case of more subjective decisions, he’ll check off-pitch TVs before. On-field reviews take around two to three minutes, but the final decision is always made by the referee.

Referee checking VAR

Mike Riley, general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials says one of the challenges of VAR is knowing which speed is best for revewiing an incident - slow motion or real time.

“What we are saying to the officials in training is use the slow motion to establish point of contact, use real-time footage to establish intensity,” he explains.

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What’s been the reaction to VAR so far?

The Brighton-Crystal Palace match ended without a referral, but VAR was called up for the first time in the Leicester vs Fleetwood Town third-round replay. At first, Kelechi Iheanacho’s goal was ruled offside by the referee's assistant, but the referee consulted VAR Mike Jones who checked the angles – with the help of his system's overlaid blue lines - and awarded the goal. Find out more.

VAR lines on the pitch

The next night, at the Chelsea vs Norwich FA Cup third-round replay, VAR proved more controversial.

When Chelsea player Willian went down in the box after an apparent challenge from Norwich's Timm Klose, referee Graham Scott opted to book Willian for diving. However Chelsea’s Head Coach Antonio Conte felt the VAR should have intervened and advised the award of a penalty.

VAR is still in its infancy and it will take time for referees, players and fans to get used to it.

“VAR will not make the game perfect – it was never intended to,” says Riley.

“The question the VAR asks himself is 'is the decision taken by the referee clearly and obviously wrong?'. If it’s not then we stay with the on-field decision… that protects the integrity of the game. We don’t want to be stopping and reviewing everything. If we keep to that high threshold, I think we’ll get the benefits of it.”

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