Refereeing at the 2018 #WorldCup (23 games)

The Match Reports from the official FIFA 2018 World Cup website provide excellent sources of secondary data.

I have used these data to profile ball in play times and fouls identified by referees. I have used the ggplot library in RStudio to do this. I used geom_label_repel() for my text labels. I have used a Loess Regresssion to smooth the data series.

Ball in Play


I have posted my code and other material in a GitHub repository RefereeingWC18.

#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)

The Discipline of Three Leading Teams in European Football League Competitions 2014-2015



I have been interested in officiating behaviours and fair play in sport for as long as I can remember. This European football season (2014-2015) I have been looking at fouls and cards in the English Premier League.

This post compares Chelsea’s performance with the leaders of two other European football leagues, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.

I have used secondary data from the website for this post.



Chelsea‘s Premier League status is:


Chelsea are 7 points ahead of Arsenal having played one game less.

This season, Chelsea have played seven games in which they were awarded no cards (5 home games and 2 away games). Chelsea have won six of these games and drawn the seventh.

Chelsea‘s cards in comparison to their opponents this season have been:

C01There are seven games in which Chelsea has received more cards than their opponents. These appear above the line in the chart.

Bayern Munich


Bayern Munich‘s Bundesliga position is:


Bayern are 10 points ahead of Wolfsburg.

This season Bayern have played in thirteen games in which they have not received a card (8 home and 5 away). They have won 11 of these games, drawn 1 (v Koln away) and lost 1 (v Borussia Moenchengladbach at home).

Bayern‘s cards in comparison to their opponents this season have been:

BM01There have been only five games in which Bayern has received more cards than their opponents. Two of the five games have been draws, one away and one at home).

Paris Saint-Germain


Paris Saint-Germain‘s Ligue 1 position is:


They are one point ahead of Lyon.

Paris Saint-Germain have played in 3 games in which they have received no cards. They have won all three games (two at home and one away). All three games took place in the first half of the Ligue 1 season.

Paris Saint-Germain‘s cards in comparison to their opponents this season have been:

PSG01Paris Saint-Germain have played in 16 games where they have received more cards than their opponents. Four of these games have ended as home draws, 4 as away draws, and 2 as away losses. (On the other six occasions, Paris Saint-Germain have won at home 5 times and away once.)


Chelsea and Bayern Munich have comprehensive seven and ten-point leads in their respective leagues. Paris Saint-Germain are involved in a much closer contest.

Bayern’s discipline is very impressive. Their 13 games without cards raises some fascinating issues about their approach to football and officiating in the Bundesliga.

Chelsea are much closer to Bayern’s pattern of discipline than to Paris Saint Germain’s. Chelsea’s middle third of the season was particularly impressive. They had a run of 13 games in which their opponents were carded more than they were. Ironically, they lost their only two games of the season in this period both away from home (versus Newcastle and Tottenham).

I do think there are some important lessons here for game management by coaches and players. Paris Saint-Germain’s season leads to some interesting questions about their approach to games and to officiating in Ligue 1.

As well as the general trends in these data, there are some great opportunities for phenomenographic study of specific games.


There is a mindmap to accompany this post. It can be found here.

Photo Credits

München 11-2014 (117) (Armin Rodler, CC BY-NC 2.0)

QPR 0 Chelsea 1 (cfcunofficial, CC BY-SA 2.0)

München 11-2014 (116) (Armin Rodler, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Maxwell, Javier Pistore, David Luiz and Thiago Silva gather round the ball ahead of a free kick (Ben Sutherland, CC BY 2.0)