The new addition to the controlling of games by match officials, VAR-System will be tried for the first time at a Chelsea game when they take on Arsenal tonight.
The Video Assistant Referee will be watching the game remotely and as part of the system, the referee on the pitch has the option to watch incidents again via a pitchside monitor which in Chelsea’s case, is positioned in front of the West Stand.
Video Assistant Referee Neil Swarbrick will sit in judgment of tonight’s match at the Premier League’s control room in Stockley Park industrial estate, west London.
This hub is where ‘dubious’ Premier League goals are already instantly reassigned to the correct scorer. Now it hosts VAR technology’s first London derby, and one that is usually packed with incidents.
The VAR has a red button to open communications with the match officials. Swarbrick will have alongside him assistant referee Bob McDonough (titled the Assistant Video Assistant Referee) and camera operators who can instantly replay action from at least a dozen angles.
This week’s other semi-final first leg in this competition, Manchester City-Bristol City was not VAR-enabled as only top-flight stadiums have the requisite number of cameras present. There were no VAR-inspired changes during its club debut on Monday evening in the FA Cup, so history may now be made in this all-London affair at the Bridge instead. If not tonight, perhaps the Norwich replay next Wednesday, which will also be VAR-ed up.
Official figures from the referees’ body reckon errors account for around four per cent of decisions made by officials. ‘If through [VAR] we make that four per cent two per cent, we’ve benefited the game,’ commented PGMOL chief Mike Riley.
The VAR has strict limitations. That person can only preside over errors or oversights relating to match-changing moments – goals, penalties, straight red cards and mistaken identity on any card shown. Second bookable offences are beyond the remit of the VAR.
Clear mistakes can be overruled and others called into question, with the referee reviewing the action on a pitchside monitor. Around the world, a VAR review is signalled to players and the crowd by the outlining of a TV with two fingers – a gesture already familiar to fans of charades and cricket.
People have raised some questions about the system and implementation. For instance, how secure and robust is the connection from the control room to the referee’s wrist, to ensure recourse is achieved as swiftly as possible?
It takes 30 to 40 seconds to revise a clear mistake, or two to three minutes should the referee wish to see the footage pitchside, and the game cannot restart if a review is in process. This means delays may occur if the ball is out of play or a goal has been scored. What happens if another incident occurs during that review period?
Will referees also opt out of contentious decisions, deferring to VAR? And how long before managers demand a tennis- or cricket-style reviews system? Without trialling the process, we would never know the answers.