What is VAR in football?

Jul 20 2018

'What is VAR - and what does it stand for?

The Video Assistant Referee system, known as VAR, is football's first use of video technology to reach more correct decisions. The system was trialled in the FA and Carabao Cups last season, as well as the German and Italian leagues.

The system has already been used in the World Cup group stages and Round of 16 to correct and clarify decisions, including Diego Costa's first goal against Portugal, France's penalty against Australia as well as Sweden's penalty against South Korea.

VAR at the World Cup?

Following the unanimous approval of the International Football Association Board in Zurich in March, a vote was made to introduce the system permanently. This is the first World Cup using video replays, although goal line technology was successfully employed in Brazil four years ago.

What are the rules of VAR being used?

VAR only intervenes in the course of a match when the officials have made a 'clear and obvious error' in one of four key areas.


A close offside decision is the most common reason for VAR being consulted after a goal has been scored, but shirt-pulling and other infringements can cause goals to be chalked off.

The concept of 'clear and obvious' errors does not apply to offsides. A player is either onside or offside - you cannot be a little bit pregnant. So even if a player is offside by a matter of inches, the goal will be ruled out.


The most subjective and arguably problematic area. Penalties can be awarded or rescinded using VAR if there has been a 'clear and obvious error' in the original decision.

Straight red cards

Violent conduct and dangerous tackles can be penalised using VAR. Second-yellow cards cannot.

Mistaken identity

If the referee sends off the wrong player, such as the famous incident with Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in Arsenal's 6-0 drubbing at Chelsea in 2014, that injustice can be repaired.

The system is restricted to these areas in order to minimise disruption to the flow of the game.

Where are the video referees?

They watch the match in a remote location, with access to dozen of camera angles and are miked up to the on-pitch officials so they can alert them to any mistakes.

How will it work in practice?

There are three ways VAR can play out during the game:

The video referee speaks to the on-field referee through an earpiece, who will put his hand up to pause play and inform the players a decision is being reviewed. If satisfied there is no error, he will signal for play to re-start.

VAR decides. In this instance the referee will draw a rectangle with his arms to replicate a TV a screen. The video referee will review the incident and the referee will make the same signal if he wishes to change his decision.

An 'on-field review', as we saw when Italy were rewarded a penalty at Wembley earlier this year. With more subjective decisions, the video referee will instruct the referee to watch a replay on a pitchside screen. He will make the 'TV signal' before communicating his final decision.

The referee must always make a decision - he cannot let play unfold and wait for VAR. He can only go back to the start of the attacking phase that provoked the incident, and must wait until the ball is in a neutral zone to stop play.

Why have Fifa decided to use it?

The sport's governing bodies want to improve decision making and accuracy.

"I would say to the fans, players and coaches that it will have an impact, a positive impact," said Fifa president Infantino. "That is what the results of the study show.

"From almost 1,000 live matches that were part of the experiment, the level of the accuracy increased from 93% to 99%. It's almost perfect."

"We have looked into all the details and benefits it can bring," Infantino added.

"Of course, we need to speed up the reviews and the communication to the referees that are applying it but also for the general public."