What is VAR?

Although video arbitration is now almost fully accepted in professional football, there are still many fans who do not know how VAR works or where it comes from. A system that has changed and will change the development of matches forever.

We all know how upsetting it is that our favorite football team doesn’t get a flagrant penalty or score a flagrant offside goal. A question that, more or less, we have accepted, since any fan should understand that a soccer referee is one more person and, as such, can also screw up.  

However, if engineers or safety managers have high-precision tools with which to improve the results of their work, why not provide referees with similar tools, with which to improve the results of their arbitrations and make the game more fair? Well, this is the idea with which VAR was born, which today is already something common in our fields.

The basics about VAR

The first thing we need to know to understand this technology is what VAR is. If you don’t know what VAR means, these acronyms correspond to the term Video Assistant Referee or Video Arbitration Assistance. The idea of ​​this system is to have a series of cameras strategically placed on the field, in high-risk areas for certain plays, with which to take images at all times.

These images are used in case there is any doubt when judging a game cast that is not too clear. However, this system can only be used at the request of the VAR referee, who is in the control room of this system, and cannot be required by the field referee. For these communications, the “earpiece” system is used, which has been used for several years by both referees and their sideline assistants.

The result is a complete, high-quality image-taking system, as well as a large television screen located at the foot of the field. These images are used by the main referee when making decisions that, due to their importance, can change the course of a match. Something that we will detail later, as it clearly explains what VAR has meant and its meaning when it comes to completely changing the result of a match.

The origin of VAR

Although this video arbitration system seems like a great idea of ​​our days, the truth is that the origin of this system is much older. To find out about it, we have to travel to the 94 World Cup in the United States. If you are of a certain age, surely the first thing that came to mind is the brutal elbow that Tassoti gave Luis Enrique. A move that, if judged correctly, would have led to the expulsion of the Italian defender and also a penalty, with which Spain could have tied that quarterfinal match.

While all of Spain was outraged against the referee, Antonio Ibáñez de Alba felt the light bulb in his brain turn on. This former NASA engineer worked in a company dedicated to the development of patents, which by the way was directed by the famous former banker Mario Conde. As part of his profession, Ibañez developed a video arbitration system, which he registered in 1995. This system used different cameras to take images, which could be consulted in real time to make decisions on the most controversial plays.

The problem is that Ibáñez de Alba’s invention has never been recognized as such, not even by the company he worked for. The same thing happened to Francisco Lopez, creator of a similar system and who even had documents proving the invention and development of a system similar to VAR. This inventor presented his idea to bodies such as the League or FIFA. Organizations that paid no attention, but later plagiarized his designs, according to Lopez, to later start them up under the current system. So, as we can see, the birth of VAR as such is already surrounded by controversy.

When is VAR used?

What there is consensus on is that VAR has completely changed what football is and how matches are played. If before the matches were played without any break, now it is possible for the referee to take a walk to the band in order to take a look at the VAR images and know if he was right or not.

Fortunately, within the VAR regulations the plays and situations in which this technology can be used are established. Among these cases, we have the scoring of a goal that, in case there are strange circumstances around it, can be reviewed to see if it is valid. The same happens with penalties, VAR being able to be used both to verify if a penalty signaled is really a foul or if the referee “has eaten a penalty” that he has not signaled.

Other situations in which VAR is used is when expelling a player. In these circumstances, the VAR allows the action to be seen more clearly and to assess it to determine if the expulsion corresponds, as well as to guess without a doubt the player who caused it. Because sometimes, in the middle of a play, not even the best soccer jerseys can be enough to identify the player. Finally, it is also possible to use the VAR in other circumstances such as signaling offside and other types of situations that may affect the normal development of the game. 

Application of the VAR

To assess the VAR and its importance, just take a look at its level of application today. The first experiences with this system date from 2016, applying the VAR to various international matches. The first tournament to implement it was the Confederations Cup in 2017, where the system was polished a bit before its subsequent deployment.

Its massive implementation would arrive in the 2018-2019 season, forming part of the main European leagues, including the Spanish league. The same would happen in international competitions, such as the Champions League, the Europa League or other international competitions. A deployment process that, at least in Spain, is not exempt from controversy, given the decisions made. Although we already know that when it comes to football, it is practically impossible to please everyone.

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