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Technology Meets Football: Are Video Assistant Referees Necessary?

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The video assistant referee (VAR) technology has recently been widely used at football matches. It became quite popular in the last Russia 2018 World Cup. It has received widespread criticisms, but it remains the video technology employed to help referees.

Used in various competitions around the world from Bundesliga to Serie A, VAR was first used in England in November 2017 in a friendly game with Germany. In January 2018, it made its competitive debut in an FA Cup match between Crystal Palace and Brighton & Hove Albion.

The VAR is a team of three people who work together to review certain decisions made by the main referee by watching video replays of the relevant incidents.

That team would have a current or former referee as the video assistant referee, an assistant and a replay operator. They work closely together in a video operation room, which is a bank of monitors offering different camera angles.

The VAR can review four types of decisions: violations in the build-up to a goal and the goal itself, penalties, red cards and identity error in awarding a card. A decision made on the pitch can only be overturned if it’s a clear error.

The referee on the pitch can either request a review after a deciding, or the VAR team can recommend one. The referee can then immediately overturn the call based on the VAR’s advice or review the incident themselves on a monitor on the touchline or stick with their initial decision.

However, instead of creating more clear-cut decisions, the VAR has only aroused more debates around refereeing decisions. It has had its moment of gains and loses, and the discussions around it are unlikely to end soon.

The VAR has not been officially written into the laws of the game but is being tested in several leagues and tournaments around the world by the International Football Association Board (IFAB).

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