With Video Assistant Referees (VAR) being used in the Premier League, we answer key questions.
What is VAR?
Every Premier League fixture has a Video Assistant Referee (VAR), a qualified referee who watches the match via a number of screens and can view slow-motion replays, enabling them to advise the on-field referee.
Why did the Premier League introduce it?
Premier League match officials can make mistakes which can have an impact on the outcome of a match.
The power of technology means people can see immediately on TV or their phones that mistakes have been made. So why not use that technology to help what is happening on the pitch?
In 2018/19, before VAR was introduced, the percentage of correct key match decisions was 82 per cent. With the help of VAR in 2019/20, it rose to 94 per cent.
Over the course of 2019/20, over 2,400 incidents were checked and 109 decisions were overturned by the VAR, an average of an overturned decision every 3.5 matches.
Who was involved in the decision to introduce it?
The International Football Association Board (IFAB), which oversees the Laws of the Game, approved trials and then the use of VAR in football.
In July 2020, IFAB transferred the responsibility of VAR to FIFA. IFAB continues to work closely with FIFA, especially in terms of the VAR protocol, related Laws and qualification requirements.
Premier League clubs voted unanimously to introduce VAR for season 2019/20, and then again for season 2020/21.
Who appoints the Video Assistant Referees?
VARs are qualified match officials. Their appointments as part of the refereeing team are announced by Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) for every Premier League match round at the beginning of each week.
The VAR sits at the VAR Hub at Stockley Park, in west London, and has an Assistant VAR (AVAR) and a Replay Operator (RO).
When will VAR be used in Premier League matches?
The VAR is constantly monitoring the match.
VAR is used only for "clear and obvious errors" or "serious missed incidents" in four match-changing situations: goals; penalty decisions; direct red-card incidents; and mistaken identity.
But factual decisions such as offsides, and the issue of whether a player is inside or outside the penalty area, are not subject to the "clear and obvious" test.
If the VAR sees an error has been made in such a situation they will intervene, regardless of how marginal the decision is.
There is a high bar for the VARs to intervene on subjective decisions, to maintain the pace and intensity of matches.
How does it work?
For subjective decisions, either the referee informs the VAR that a decision should be reviewed or the VAR identifies a “clear and obvious error” in one of the four match-changing situations and communicates this to the referee.
At the next stoppage of the match, the referee will hold up the restart of play until a decision has been reached.
The referee explains their decision to the VAR, and what they have seen from the pitch.
The VAR reviews the broadcast footage, using as many angles as possible. Real-time replays will be used initially to check for intensity. Slow-motion replays will be used to identify the point of contact.
If the VAR’s view does not agree with what the referee believes they have seen then they can recommend an overturn.
What incidents does the VAR check?
VAR will be used only for “clear and obvious errors” or “serious missed incidents” in four match-changing situations: goals; penalty decisions; direct red-card incidents; and mistaken identity.
What incidents does the VAR not check?
The VAR will not review incidents outside of the four match-changing situations: goals; penalty decisions; direct red-card incidents; and mistaken identity.
It will not review, for example, fouls or handballs in the middle of the pitch when there is no goal or penalty decision.
It will not review the decision to award a corner instead of a goal-kick, even if the corner produces a goal.
This is because the VAR will only check the attacking possession phase that led to the goal, and the starting point is limited to the immediate phase, in this instance the corner being taken.
Who asks for VAR to be used during a match?
Only the referee, who can inform the VAR that a decision should be reviewed.
Can players ask for a decision to be checked by VAR?
No. In fact, yellow cards will be issued to players or club staff who aggressively make the VAR signal to a match official.
What qualifies as a “clear and obvious error”?
In testing, there was no unanimity. Different VARs came up with different outcomes.
But the VAR should not be asking, "Do I think it's right or wrong?" The question is, "Is what the match officials have done a clear and obvious error?"
There is a very high bar for that intervention.
From what point does the VAR check incidents leading to a penalty or goal?
The VAR will only check the attacking possession phase that led to the penalty or goal.
The starting point will be limited to the immediate phase. The VAR may not go back to when the attacking team gained possession.
The VAR will consider the ability of the opposing defence to reset, and the momentum of the attack.
What is the Referee Review Area (RRA)?
This is a screen by the side of the pitch at each stadium where the referee can view incidents if they choose.
If the VAR's advice falls within the referee’s range of expectation, he or she can make a final decision based on that information, without using the RRA.
But where the information received from the VAR falls outside of the referee’s expectation range, or where there is a serious missed incident, the referee can use the RRA to assist with a final decision.
At the Premier League's Annual General Meeting ahead of the 2020/21 season, Shareholders agreed to the increased use of the RRA, which will be used for subjective decisions in three key areas: goals; red cards; and penalty kicks.
Will VAR review incidents where a yellow card is shown?
A direct red-card incident is one of the four match-changing situations where the VAR may intervene for “clear and obvious errors” or “serious missed incidents”.
If the VAR feels the referee has made a clear and obvious error in only cautioning a player, rather than sending him off, they can advise the referee to watch the incident again in the Referee Review Area.
Can VAR overrule a referee?
No. The final decision is always taken by the on-field referee. The VAR only provides advice.
How will fans in the stadiums know what is happening?
The referee will point to their ear to indicate a review is in place, and gesture with a "TV signal" when the process is completed, before communicating the final decision.
Premier League graphics will be displayed on big screens and/or information relayed over the PA system.
TV viewers will also see a series of graphics as well as replays of the incident.
How long will a decision take?
In 2019/20, the average delay to matches caused by VAR was 50 seconds.
What happens if an incident occurs while another decision is being reviewed?
It depends on the incidents and whether advantage is involved.
But an example occurred in the 2019 UEFA Nations League semi-final between Portugal and Switzerland.
Portugal were awarded a penalty at a time when the VAR was already reviewing an incident that had happened moments earlier in the other box, when Switzerland had been attacking.
On the advice of the VAR, the referee viewed Switzerland's penalty appeal in the Referee Review Area (RRA) and changed his decision, awarding a spot-kick to Switzerland instead of Portugal.
This process would also be applied in the Premier League.
Will VAR be used for diving?
Only for incidents in the four match-changing situations: goals; penalty decisions; direct red-card incidents; and mistaken identity.
In the instance where the on-field referee has awarded a penalty but the VAR has determined that it was an act of simulation, the penalty award will be overturned and the offending player will be shown a yellow card.
The FA's retrospective disciplinary process remains for other incidents not captured by the match officials or VAR.
Will it be used for all offside decisions?
No, only for one of the four match-changing situations: goals; penalty decisions; direct red-card incidents; and mistaken identity.
Will assistants still flag for offside or is it decided only by VAR?
For clear offside decisions the assistant referee should flag immediately.
But when an immediate goalscoring opportunity is likely to occur and there is a tight, marginal offside call, the assistant referee should keep their flag down until the passage of play is completed.
Once the goalscoring opportunity is complete - either a goal is scored or the chance is gone - the assistant will then flag to indicate the initial offence. If a goal is scored the VAR will then review the offside judgement.
In both of these situations the referee should wait to blow the whistle until the immediate phase of play has ended.
When the VAR is involved in offside decisions, they will be making a factual call based on evidence from fully calibrated offside lines.
What about off-the-ball incidents?
Direct red-card incidents and cases of mistaken identity are two of the four match-changing situations where the VAR may intervene in cases of “clear and obvious errors” or “serious missed incidents”, including when play is stopped.
However, the VAR has a short window to intervene on unseen incidents.
The FA's retrospective disciplinary process remains for incidents not captured by the match officials or VAR.
What will the VAR do when a penalty is being taken?
The VAR can intervene for a clear and obvious error by the on-field match officials relating to goalkeeper movement, a double touch by the penalty taker, feigning at the point of the kick, and encroachment that has a direct impact.
The 2020/21 protocol does not allow for tolerance levels, so if the goalkeeper saves a penalty and his foot is over the goalline then VAR will advise it is retaken.
If the goalkeeper is off his line and the ball hits the post or goes over, it won’t be retaken unless the 'keeper has a material impact on the kick being missed.
For player encroachment in the box, it is now judged on any part of a player’s body that is on the ground when the kick is taken.
Therefore, if any part of the foot is on the penalty area or arc line it is encroachment. The player must still have a material impact on the outcome of the kick.
What about incidents not seen by the on-field officials?
The VAR has a short window to intervene on unseen incidents.
If the ball is in play, they have until the next restart. If it is out of play, they have until the second restart.
The FA's retrospective disciplinary process remains for incidents not captured by the match officials or VAR.
Further VAR reading
Premier League's VAR principles
Clear and obvious
Referee Review Area (RRA)
Attacking possession phase
How offsides are determined by VAR
History of VAR