UEFA is introducing video assistant referees (VAR) next year, and Europe's referees are already preparing diligently – with the latest course in Madrid taking preparations another important step forward.
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UEFA and European referees are hard at work preparing for the introduction of video assistant referees (VAR) in UEFA competitions from next season.
At a four-day course in Madrid, a group of referees with limited experience of VAR in their own countries took part in intensive theoretical and practical sessions, which are enabling them to learn the ropes in time for the launching of VAR in the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League from the play-offs next August.
They were joined on the last day by elite referees already experienced with VAR, as UEFA adopts and fine-tunes a unified approach to the system for all of its referees.
The course in Madrid was hosted by the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) at its Ciudad del Fútbol national training centre at Las Rozas, just outside the capital, and followed a first course last month at the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) national centre in Zeist.
The video assistant referee reviews decisions made by the referee in certain key match situations with the use of video footage and a headset for communication. This year, VAR was incorporated into the Laws of the Game by football’s lawmakers, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), following trials in major competitions.
The decision to introduce VAR in UEFA competitions was taken by the UEFA Executive Committee in September. In addition to the UEFA Champions League, the committee decided that VAR would also be used at the 2019 UEFA Super Cup.
UEFA plans to subsequently extend the deployment of VAR to the final tournament of UEFA EURO 2020, the 2020/21 UEFA Europa League (group stage onwards) and the 2021 UEFA Nations League Finals.
The training programme is designed to guarantee an efficient and smooth implementation of the system at UEFA level, and additional courses will be taking place in the coming months.
"This project needs time, preparation and hard work," said UEFA chief refereeing officer Roberto Rosetti. "It is an important project, not only for referees, but for European football as a whole. The objective is to prevent clear errors, and this project and this training can help referees take the right decisions.
"It is essential that we achieve consistency and uniformity. We must speak one language."
Among the focal points in Madrid were training sessions involving rooms at the RFEF centre equipped with state-of-the-art technical equipment and several screens, and two teams of players out on the pitch.
The trainee video assistant referees – sat together with an assistant video assistant referee (AVAR) who provides support, as well as a technical operator – reviewed decisions taken by the referee on the field and communicated with the referee during the review process.
In addition, the trainees participated in simulation sessions involving recorded footage of actual matches, practising reviews and communication with the referee, the AVAR and operator. They were given constant guidance by VAR instructors and members of the UEFA Referees Committee.
The referees were also given insights, among other things, into VAR procedures and communication, and undertook protocol and video tests to enhance the learning process, giving feedback on their experiences along the way. Former top Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo highlighted experiences with VAR in Spain.
"Nowadays, everybody is able to review incidents on their television set or mobile phones," said Rosetti. "The one person who cannot do this is the referee – and the referee is the one who has to take the decision. We have to help the referee take the correct decision – and this is the way."
The referees in Madrid found the course an extremely positive experience. "It's very important in terms of our development, and the development within football," said Scottish referee Bobby Madden. "UEFA has recognised that there is a benefit for referees, and for football. With this being our first introduction to VAR, it's important for us to get an understanding of where and when VAR can be of value."
"This is the future," added Slovenian official Matej Jug. "The course is helping us learn how VAR works and be successful with it, and it is important to hear and exchange views with those who already have experience of VAR."
Elite referees who joined the course later in the week all welcomed the introduction of VAR in UEFA competitions. "It gives me more confidence," said Turkey's Cüneyt Çakır. "We know that if there is a really clear and obvious mistake, there can be an intervention, and a decision can be corrected."
"To me, VAR is an additional tool to support my decisions," added German official Felix Brych. "My experiences with VAR so far have been really positive." Anthony Taylor from England said that VAR is "a positive step forward for referees in general – anything that helps us get decisions correct on the field of play has to be a positive development."
"It's a very important project, and referees are very happy with it," said Dutch referee Björn Kuipers.