UEFA's latest course for additional assistant referees (AARs) highlighted the crucial nature of the role, as well as the success of the system since it was introduced. "Extra pairs of eyes" are giving referees crucial support in making decisions – thanks to the deployment of additional assistant referees (AARs) in UEFA's top club and national team competitions in recent years. UEFA brought 40 match officials who perform this task to Nyon this week for two days of analysis, discussion and training designed to fine-tune and further improve their work in the coming season.
The AAR system, anchored in the Laws of the Game in 2012, involves the match referee, two assistants and fourth official being accompanied by two additional assistant referees – one positioned alongside each goal. The task of the AARs is to watch for penalty-area incidents such as pushing or holding and to decide whether the ball has crossed the goal line for a goal. The system is in operation in the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and UEFA Super Cup, as well as the Euro 2016 qualifiers.
UEFA refereeing officers Hugh Dallas and Marc Batta, together with UEFA Referees' Committee member Vladimir Sajn, were in Nyon to lead the course, while UEFA's referee training expert Werner Helsen and his team took sessions featuring exercises and match situations specific to the role of additional assistant referees. Incidents from UEFA games and filmed examples from the training sessions were analysed in detail as part of the course agenda. Areas covered included focus and concentration, positioning, anticipation, correct movement, the need for clear and precise communication at all times and how the match referees and AARs must always strive to nurture high-quality teamwork. UEFA's training for AARs now also includes online and special website preparation though the study of match incidents and situations – affording the AARs important experience and the chance to exchange feedback with UEFA's refereeing officials before they go on the pitch. "We know that the AAR role is proving to be of benefit," said Dallas. The former international referee from Scotland explained that the introduction of AARs had been an important factor in the reduction of potentially match-changing errors, especially as far as penalty-box incidents were concerned. "It is crucial that we get the big decisions correct, which means that AARs need to be totally focused," he said. "AARs' help in identifying infringements in the penalty area is a [role] which needs courage and accuracy. One of the biggest areas where the AAR system has worked," Dallas continued, "is in acting as a deterrent. Players and coaches are aware that another pair of eyes is on the goal line watching for incidents. This deters players from holding, pushing and blocking. We're also seeing a reduction in these types of incidents from free-kicks and corners." Dallas also observed that a positive surprise of the AAR system was the help it was offering not only to referees, but also to assistant referees. "Given that our assistant referees are mainly focused on offside decision judgement, their accuracy in their decision-making has increased greatly," he said. As the new season moves into gear, feedback from referees on the AAR system continues to be positive. "The referees feel comfortable in the sharing of responsibility," Dallas reflected. "The referees and AARs are now viewing the same incident from two different angles – it's giving the referee an additional pair of eyes. This means that there are less reasons for errors of judgement in the penalty area – more eyes means more accuracy".