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Video Assistant Referees (VARs)



The International Football Association Board (IFAB) has authorized the trial use of live video evaluation and “instant replay” for soccer officiating. The following information is reproduced from TheIFAB.com  as of August 3, 2017, regarding Video Assistant Referees  or “VARs” (now also being referred to as Video Assistant Replay).


The 130th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of The International Football Association Board (The IFAB) in Cardiff on 5 March 2016 approved a two-year period of “live experiments with video assistance for clear errors in match-changing situations” involving Video Assistant Referees, who will be match officials, to determine if ‘the implementation of VARs improves the game’.

The aim of the experiment is not to achieve 100% accuracy for all decisions as there is no desire to destroy the essential flow and emotions of football which result from the game’s almost non-stop action and the general absence of lengthy stoppages. The philosophy is:

“minimum interference – maximum benefit”

To ensure that the referee (not the VAR) is the key match official, the referee will always make a decision (except a ‘missed’ usually ‘off the ball’ incident), including the decision that no offence has occurred. The referee’s decision can only be changed if the video review shows a clear error, i.e. not ‘was the decision correct?’ but:

“was the decision clearly wrong?”


National FAs and competitions are permitted to take part in experiments (or use VARs) with the permission of The IFAB. Permission will only be granted where The IFAB protocols will be used in full and The IFAB’s referee-VAR education and technical requirements have been fulfilled:

“one protocol – used by all”

Reviewable Decisions

Match officials make hundreds of decisions in every match, including decisions that an offence has not occurred. It would be impossible, without completely changing football, to review every decision. Thus, the experiment limits the use of VARs to four categories of match-changing decisions/incidents:

  • Goals/ no goal decisions
  • Penalty/ no penalty decisions
  • Direct red cards (not 2nd yellow cards)
  • Mistaken identity

In all these situations, the VAR is only used after the referee has made a decision (including allowing play to continue), or if a serious incident is ‘missed’ i.e. not seen by the match officials.

Referee Education

Considerable time and resources will be needed to educate referees and VARs to use the VAR system effectively, especially when under pressure in key or complex match-changing situations. This education will be of fundamental importance to the VAR experiment. The education will aim to develop an efficient review process to:

  • achieve a high level of accuracy in determining whether a decision/incident will be reviewed and in the ‘final’ (post-review) decision
  • minimise the time taken for the review, without sacrificing accuracy

Analyzing the Data

The IFAB has appointed KU Leuven (Belgium), a university with considerable referee/football experience, to gather and analyse the experiment data. Their results will be validated by two universities.

Decision Time-Line

The IFAB hopes to make a decision about VARs in 2018, or in 2019 at the latest.


  1. The aim is not to achieve 100% accuracy for all decisions as this would destroy the essential flow and emotions of football
  2. Video assistance is only for key match-changing situations (goals, penalty incidents and direct red cards and mistaken identity) and serious missed incidents
  3. The referee will always make a decision (including ‘no offence’) which will only be changed if the review shows a clear error – “was the decision clearly wrong?
  4. Video Assistant Referees (VARs) are match officials
  5. Only the referee can initiate a review; VAR and other officials can recommend a review
  6. The referee should be ‘visible’ during the review process to ensure transparency
  7. The final decision will always be taken by the referee
  8. There is no time pressure during a review – accuracy is more important than speed
  9. A match is not invalidated because of malfunction(s) of the VAR technology (same as for goal line technology) or wrong decision(s) involving the VAR (as the VAR is a match official) or a decision not to review an incident
  10. Competitions must use the full IFAB VAR protocol – “one protocol – used by all


  1. The VAR will automatically ‘check’ all incidents using the broadcaster’s footage (there is thus no need for coaches or players to request a review)
  2. The referee can stop play for a review if no team has a good attacking possibility
  3. The referee will indicate a review by showing the outline of a TV screen; a decision can not be changed unless the review signal has been shown
  4. For goals, penalty incidents and some red cards (e.g. denial of obvious goal-scoring opportunity), the review may include the attacking move that led to the incident, (including gaining possession of the ball) but not a restart which began the attack
  5. The referee can make a decision based only on the information from the VAR or after reviewing the footage directly (on-field review – OFR)
  6. OFRs will usually be for ‘subjective’ decisions and not for factual decisions e.g. position of an offence or player (offside), point of contact (handball/foul)
  7. ‘Real time’ speed should be used for ‘intensity’ (foul) or ‘intent’ (handball) and slow motion replays only for ‘point of contact’ (physical offences and handball)
  8. The referee will clearly indicate the outcome of a review; take/change/rescind any disciplinary action (where appropriate); and ensure the correct restart of play


The below table displays all confirmed matches where VARs are used “live”, i.e. where the VARs have contact with the referee on the field of play and therefore may have an impact on the decision making



Other Participants

In addition to the above table, the following countries/competitions have confirmed participation in the experiments and are currently preparing for live trials in the future (information will be updated as soon as it is available).

  • Czech Republic
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Turkey

Further countries are closely following the developments and will decide in the near future on their participation in the global VAR experiments.


Note that individual competitions will follow this structure but have their own timelines, which will be agreed with The IFAB.

Development of protocol (January – April 2016)

  • Meetings and detailed discussions with interested competition organisers
  • Market analysis of available technology and meetings with the suppliers
  • Presentation of the developed protocols at the TSC, Advisory Panels, ABM and AGM

Preparation phase (March – November 2016) 

  • Meetings and workshops for participating and interested competition organisers
  • Education of referees; selection and education of VARs in close collaboration with The IFAB, the competition organiser/national FA and the technology provider
  • Appointment of KU Leuven (Belgium) as research partner
  • Development of reporting platform, procedures and documents
  • Implementation of offline and online testing of VARs in friendly matches

Experiment Phase 1 (early 2017 – May 2017) – offline and live tests

  • Monitoring experiments and potential ‘fine tuning’
  • Implementation of reporting
  • Weekly/bi-weekly feedback meeting/call with competition organisers
  • Monthly feedback from directly involved stakeholders
  • Bi-monthly feedback from non-directly involved stakeholders
  • Regular updates/feedback from research institution/university

Preparation Phase 2 (March – July 2017)

  • Discussions with all involved parties and issuing first reports
  • Provision of all required information for IFAB meetings
  • Potential modifications of experiments (subject to the decision by The IFAB)
  • Review of feedback from KU Leuven – potential modification of protocols/practices

Experiment Phase 2 (August 2017 – March 2018)

  • Monitoring experiments and potential ‘fine tuning’
  • Implementation of reporting
  • Weekly feedback meeting/call with competition organisers
  • Monthly feedback from directly involved stakeholders
  • Bi-monthly feedback from non-directly involved stakeholders
  • Regular updates/feedback from KU Leuven

Preparation of final reports for ABM 2017 (November) and AGM 2018 (March) or a Special Meeting after conclusion of Experiment Phase 2

  • Debrief with all involved parties, including research institution/university
  • Provision of all required information for IFAB meetings
  • Recommendation based on the findings of the experiments”


Any undefined soccer words, terms, or phrases may be found in The ULTIMATE SOCCER DICTIONARY of American Terms available at Amazon.com.


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John C. Harves


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