The live experiment with Video Assistant Referees (VARs) at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan has seen the first instance of video review being used in a match-changing decision. Japan club champions Kashima Antlers were awarded a penalty during their 3-0 semi-final win over Colombia’s Atletico Nacional on Wednesday, only after referee Viktor Kassai undertook an on-field review based on information from VAR Danny Makkelie that Atletico’s Orlando Berrio tripped Daigo Nishi inside the penalty area.
To help explain the incident and the VAR experiment protocol in general, we spoke to David Elleray, who is The IFAB’s Technical Director and a former FIFA international referee.
- Can you explain the incident involving the Video Assistant Referee in the semi-final?
- In this situation, an offence occurred away from the referee’s view. After receiving information from the VAR, he stopped continuing throw-in being taken and went to look at a monitor in the Referee Review Area on the touchline to conduct an on-field review of the incident. It was just over two minutes from the time he blew the whistle to stop the game to the awarding of the penalty kick. Referees do not have to wait until the ball goes out of play – they can stop the game for a review as soon as the ball is in a ‘neutral’ area i.e. when neither team has a good attacking possibility. But we have to remember that this is the first experience some of these referees have had with video assistance. Checking replays, communication between the officials and then the review itself can take time when it’s a completely new situation for them. With further training for those taking part in the live trials around the world, and potentially further refinements to the experiment protocol, we should see the speed of the review process continue to improve.
- Was there a question of offside in this incident?
- According to Law 11, a player in an offside position is only penalised if they play the ball or interfere with an opponent. In the semi-final, the VARs’ main focus was the foul on Diago Nishi, which was clear and thus the award of the penalty kick was within the VAR protocol. However, the assistant referee’s decision not to indicate offside was not a clear error as any interference by Nishi was only evident after careful slow motion study of the replays and not during the limited time available for the VAR review. It is important to note that VARs can be used to assist with offside decisions if the offence occurs in the build-up to a goal or penalty. This is covered in the ‘match-changing’ decisions outlined in the protocol.
- More broadly, can you explain how the system works?
- The VAR system works in a very simple way. The referee and the assistant referees carry on officiating the match as if there is no VAR there. All the time, the VAR is checking on the screens what is happening. If something serious is missed or if a clear error has occurred in one of the four match-changing categories, the VAR will inform the referee. The referee then has two options. He can either accept the information from the VAR and change or confirm his decision or, alternatively, he can decide to go and look at the footage directly in the Referee Review Area on the side of the field of play and then take the appropriate action.
- When does the referee conduct an on-field review?
- In principle, if the decision is a factual decision (e.g. was an offence inside or outside the penalty area? did the ball make contact with the player’s arm or the chest? was the player in an offside position?) it can normally be decided only on the information from the VAR and the referee on the field doesn’t need to go and look at the footage himself. An on-field review is usually conducted when it’s a matter of interpretation (e.g. was a foul a red card?) or if the referee has missed a serious incident.
- After the FIFA Club World Cup, what happens next?
- Competition organisers around the world will run trials based on The IFAB protocol and send us great deal of information, which will be analysed by KU Leuven University in Belgium and validated by other universities. They will be studying how often video reviews are used and how often a referee confirms or changes a decision based solely on the information from the VAR or after an on-field review. More importantly, we will want to discover how the VAR system impacts on the behaviour of players, the behaviour of referees, the response of fans in the stadium and the response of people watching on television.
- When will The IFAB make a decision about VARs?
- The IFAB will decide in 2018 or 2019 how well the experiments have gone and whether this is something that we should incorporate into football. That decision will be taken based on all the evidence we receive and the views of the world of football as to whether this is something which will benefit the game. Our hope is that VARs can deliver ‘minimum interference, maximum benefit’ – that the essential flow and the emotion of the game will not be interrupted very often but, if there is an interruption, it will benefit the fairness of the game.