Video Replay Is Coming to Russia’s World Cup

Here's how VAR will work at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia

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Get used to the sight of a referee making a box with his hands—you might be seeing a lot of it at World Cup 2018.

The referee’s hand signal means he’s about to run over to a small screen to watch a replay of a controversial call. Video reply by the video assistant referee (VAR) has already appeared in major soccer leagues the world over, but it’s coming to the World Cup for the first time in Russia this June.

The FIFA World Cup embraced expanding technology during the 2014 tournament in Brazil, welcoming goal line technology for more accurate readings as to whether a ball really crossed the goal line. VAR takes a giant step beyond the simple and immediate technology. Referees now have the option to use video review when a “clear and obvious error” involving goals, penalty awards, red cards, or mistaken identity needs a review. “It’s great to have technology in football because this is also a fair(ness) thing,” FIFA chief commercial officer Philippe Le Floc’h told The Associated Press.

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Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system inside the VAR-van is opened to media during a training session ahead of the international friendly match between Japan and Ghana.
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As any fan of American football can testify, though, video review comes with an unavoidable side effect: game delays as referees run to the sideline and take in multiple angles of plays. So, in the World Cup plan, the main on-field match official can initiate a review, but earpiece technology already in place with the two sideline assistant referees will expand to include a referee with access to a video monitor to check decisions eligible for review.

“This is far more complex than most people realize, and we want to protect football,” International Football Association Board technical director David Elleray told a roomful of reporters. “The referee is not sitting at home with a cup of coffee in one hand and mobile phone in the other, watching TV and giving the referee a call when something goes wrong. It is highly complicated.”

IFA will install an operations center in Moscow connected to all Russia World Cup stadiums via a fiber-optic network. A group of four video officials will communicate and monitor games. The lead VAR official will communicate with the match referee. While one assistant follows the match live, another focuses on offsides and a third offers support and verifies protocol. The World Cup will install two additional cameras to the 33 cameras already used by broadcasters to help specifically with offside decisions. Fans in the stadium will receive the final VAR call on stadium screens.

The 2018 addition comes after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil introduced GoalControl goal line technology with its 14 high-speed cameras in each stadium that placed seven cameras on each goal line from various points along the upper levels of the stadium or roof. Capturing up to 500 frames per second and transmitting those images to a computer via fiber-optic cables, the computer tracked the 3D coordinates of the ball at all times so when the entire ball crossed the goal line, the computer sent a single to a special wristwatch worn by the referee with vibration and the word “goal” flashing on the face.

"The referee is not sitting at home with a cup of coffee in one hand and mobile phone in the other."

With a margin of error plus-minus 0.6 inches, the system provided clarity without interrupting the game’s flow. The 2018 addition of VAR may not have that same convenience.


Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.

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