#VAR at the 2018 FIFA #WorldCup

In March this year, Refereeing World provided a detailed description of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system to be used at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The post shared ‘five essential facts’ about the VAR system:

  • A video assistant referee team supports the match officials during all 64 matches.
  • The video assistant referee team is located in a centralised video operation room in Moscow.
  • The video assistant referee team has access to all relevant broadcast cameras and two dedicated offside cameras.
  • The video assistant referee does not take any decisions; he supports the referee in the decision making process and the final decision can only be taken by the referee.
  • Football fans will be informed about the review process by broadcasters, commentators and infotainment.

A VAR team comprises a video assistant referee (VAR) and three assistant video assistant referees (AVAR1, AVAR2 and AVAR3). All video assistant referee team members are FIFA match officials.  Their roles are described in the Refereeing World post.
The VAR team has access to 33 broadcast cameras: including 8 super slow-motion cameras. There are also 2 offside cameras that are only available to the VAR team.
The VAR team supports the decision-making process of the referee in four game-changing situations:

  • Goals and offences leading up to a goal
  • Penalty decisions and offences leading up to a penalty 
  • Direct red card incidents only 
  • Mistaken identity

The Refereeing World post notes:

For the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the referees have received clear instructions on when to accept information from the video assistant referee and when to review the video footage on the side of the field of play before taking the appropriate action/decision.
The referee will make the official VAR review signal to indicate that play has been stopped to review a decision with the on-field review monitor or to change a decision based on information received from the VAR. An official VAR review only takes place if the referee makes the signal.

VAR in use

ESPN has a detailed record of the VAR system at the 2018 World Cup.
Dale Johnson notes in the ESPN post about the use of the system:

So far the referee has changed his mind on every penalty call and given a spot kick. The only decision that has not been changed following a VAR review was to show a red card to Serbia’s Aleksandar Prijovic, though he was correctly booked.

(By the end of game 21, 5 penalties had been awarded with the VAR system.)
Other uses include:

  • Australia v Denmark (21 June) penalty awarded
  • Iran v Spain (20 June) goal disallowed
  • Egypt v Russia (19 June) free kick became penalty
  • Tunisia v England (18 June) penalty confirmed
  • England v Tunisia (18 June) two decisions not to award penalties upheld
  • Sweden v Korea (18 June) play stopped to award penalty to Sweden
  • Serbia v Costa Rica (17 June) yellow card given to Aleksandar Prijovic after red card review
  • Peru v Denmark (16 June) penalty awarded
  • France v Australia (16 June) first use of VAR in a penalty decision.

FIFA Investigations

It has been reported that “FIFA are likely to hold their own referees’ meeting in the next week and then go on to explain publicly the decisions after introducing VAR at the tournament”. This follows on from a letter sent to FIFA by Brazil after their game against Switzerland and concerns raised by the Football Association about decisions in the England v Tunisia game.
Brazil have asked for clarification about compliance with VAR protocols and what constitutes a “clear and obvious error” in referee behaviour.
The issues arising from the England v Tunisia game also raise questions about how the use or non-use of VAR is to be shared.

Source: Joe Gallagher


FIFA chose to use VAR at the 2018 World Cup. Other sports have used video bunkers to support real time decisions. All of them have had problems with disruptive technologies.
Whenever I observe a sport organisation innovate with technology, I am mindful of the observation that “rules do not bring about conformity, they bring about a different kind of non-conformity”.
VAR, like other systems, transforms synchronous decisions into asynchronous debates. In football, access to 35 cameras raises profound issues about perspective and the granularity of digital images. The VAR team has three referees to support the team of three officials live at the game.
My concern about officiating support systems is that real-time decisions are transformed and that the essence of an adjudicated contest becomes entangled with infotainment (essential fact 5 of VAR “Football fans will be informed about the review process by broadcasters, commentators and infotainment”).
My hope always is that an officiating support system seamlessly addresses “clear and obvious error’ in near real-time. I am hopeful too that post-game review identifies foul play and simulation appropriately in a game that spends a great deal of time talking about fairness.

Photo Credits

IMG_3589 (Tomasz Dunn, CC BY 2.0)
VAR at the 2018 FIFA World Cup (Refereeing World, 27 March 2018)
VAR in use Denmark v Australia (FIFA Website, 21 June 2018)


Refereeing World (21 June) reported that David Elleray, Technical Director of the International Football Association Board commented on FIFA’s view that it is “extremely satisfied with the level of refereeing to date and the successful implementation of the VAR system”. The Refereeing World article revisits the VAR decisions to date. David observed:

This is ‘minimal interference’ and with the outcome of three matches being directly affected by the VAR intervention this is ‘maximum benefit’ and a fairer World Cup. (My emphasis)


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