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VAR proving its value to football

UEFA enters the 2021/22 football season with complete faith in the video assistant referee (VAR) system – and buoyed by its success at this summer’s UEFA EURO 2020.

A VAR team working at UEFA EURO 2020
A VAR team working at UEFA EURO 2020 UEFA

The VAR teams earned widespread plaudits for their excellent contribution to the positive atmosphere around refereeing at the tournament, and they have been urged to maintain this upward momentum, especially as the system is being extended within UEFA’s competitions in the coming campaign.

Sanctioned in 2018 after extensive testing by football’s lawmakers, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), and first introduced by UEFA in the UEFA Champions League the following year, the VAR system is designed to reinforce the decision-making process, supporting referees in their job on the field and eliminating clear and obvious refereeing errors.

VAR expansion

Referee Daniele Orsato looks at the VAR screen during the UEFA EURO 2020 match between Sweden and Ukraine in Glasgow
Referee Daniele Orsato looks at the VAR screen during the UEFA EURO 2020 match between Sweden and Ukraine in GlasgowUEFA via Getty Images

Since its introduction, the system has been deployed at 517 matches in UEFA competitions across Europe. Now, having proved its worth, VAR is being expanded in the 2021/22 UEFA competition calendar.

The system will be used in the UEFA Europa League group stage, the UEFA Women’s Champions League from the quarter-final stage onwards, the remainder of the European Qualifiers programme and play-offs for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and the UEFA Women’s EURO tournament in England next summer.

Moreover, VAR will be deployed in the entire third edition of the UEFA Nations League in 2022/23, as well as in the European Qualifiers and play-offs for UEFA EURO 2024, in addition to the final tournament in Germany.

From this month, a total of 152 stadiums in all of UEFA’s 55 member associations throughout Europe will be certified for the use of the VAR system. To meet the increased number of matches, especially in national team competitions, an overall total of 120 VARs from 27 countries will be ready and prepared to carry out this essential assignment this season. The international window in September will see VAR in operation for 75 European Qualifiers matches over an eight-day period.

Positive EURO experience

Roberto Rosetti
Roberto RosettiUEFA

The chairman of UEFA’s Referees Committee, Roberto Rosetti, says that the EURO was the latest positive stage in a process of constant learning, fine-tuning and adjustment, especially with regard to the important VAR ‘line of intervention’ – when an intervention by the VAR team is required for a situation during a match.

“We were very pleased at the quality and reliability of the video assistant referees at the EURO – all of their 18 corrections of decisions in the 51 matches were 100% right,” he explains. “But now the EURO is behind us, and we have to reset and look ahead – with the results at the EURO giving us the impetus to challenge ourselves every day and further improve our standards.”

Rosetti says that the secret to the success of the VAR system at UEFA EURO 2020 was in no small part due to the centralised operation put in place for this specific event, with the entire VAR team based at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.

The centralised set-up in Nyon proved to be particularly appropriate for a tournament format. “This meant that the whole of the VAR team were able to work together as a close-knit unit,” he reflects. ”Meeting, preparing, studying, holding debriefing sessions – our specialist instructors, Carlos Velasco Carballo and Vlado Sajn, provided outstanding support, and the outcome was uniform and consistent interventions throughout the tournament.

A general view of the  UEFA EURO 2020 VAR Room at UEFA headquarters in Nyon
A general view of the UEFA EURO 2020 VAR Room at UEFA headquarters in NyonUEFA

“Everyone was on the same page. We feel that we set a new benchmark for the system at the EURO. Our ‘line of intervention’ was right. It was no surprise to me that the EURO eventually proved to be such a good experience as far as VAR was concerned.”

Preparing for the future

A recent pre-season UEFA VAR course served as an important primer for the growing number of forthcoming assignments. “Because we’re increasing VAR’s deployment across our competitions,” Rosetti states, “we’re obviously increasing the number of video assistant referees, so it’s been important that we explain our guidelines – which are totally in line with the Laws of the Game – to newcomers, make the VARs fully aware of their roles and responsibilities, and emphasise how crucial their job is.”

Rosetti says that VAR is proving particularly successful in tight offside situations. “At EURO 2020, for example, there were 30 tight offside incidents and nine VAR reviews – and we had 100% accuracy in the decisions taken,” he emphasises. “It’s clear for us now that offside is no longer a major issue.

"We also saw that VAR helped provide a more accurate evaluation of incidents in the penalty area. We’re getting faster as far as VAR interventions on a global level are concerned. Communication between referees and VARs is improving. The full picture is extremely positive going forward.”

Helping referees take decisions – protecting the game

VAR has proved to be a worthwhile addition to football. It is also extremely important to emphasise that referees will remain the centre of the decision-making process. “The project aims to help referees,” says Rosetti, “and protect the game on the basis of minimum interference for maximum benefit.”

“VAR is a project that is developing every day. We learned new things from the EURO. We’re very satisfied, and we’re committed to seeking constant progress by adapting and adjusting the system whenever it’s felt to be necessary or useful.”