How VAR is Changing Football for the Better

Written by Emory P.C. Whaley |


When an incident occurs during a football match, fans often notice that the official decision doesn’t always agree with the video evidence we see at home. These discrepancies have influenced the emergence of video-assisted referee technology (VAR). VAR is a refereeing system where official decisions can be reviewed and overturned with video assistance, drastically changing the way football is refereed and played. It was used in full during this summer’s World Cup to both praise and controversy.

There are two ways VAR can be utilized by the referees. The first: referees will be able to request video evidence to better asses an incident. This will eliminate any uncertainty a referee may face when making (potentially) game-changing decisions. The second: VAR can alert the referees when an incident has occurred and may have been overlooked. These two functions of VAR strive to achieve a more accurate game.

VAR will ensure that penalty and free kick decisions are correctly given. Awarding a free kick in a vulnerable area is often the deciding factor for who wins a match. These high-risk decisions are supported by an extra layer of security when using VAR, and we should expect this implementation to be used on many occasions.


Referee Joel Aguilar awards a penalty after reviewing VAR footage (Sweden vs. South Korea)


Additionally, if an official is uncertain about an incident leading to a goal – or if VAR alerts an incident – the goal and actions leading to it can be reviewed. This ensures that each goal is fair and deserves to be awarded. Ultimately, an accurately scored game is a fair game.

Red cards and mistaken identities on the pitch will also be monitored with VAR. Because of the serious consequences of a red card (leaving the offending team one player short, without a substitute), it is imperative to accurately judge when a red card is given to a player. By better monitoring the match with VAR, cards will be awarded accurately and with precision.

Perhaps the most important aspect of VAR is the opportunity to deter diving. When contact is made between two (or more) players, it’s not uncommon for a player to exaggerate that contact or feign an injury to give the impression that a foul was committed. That incentive is enough for diving to be a major issue in the Premier League; however, VAR can present an equal risk to combat that incentive—discouraging diving and improving the pace of the game.

That’s not to say VAR has been all smooth sailing. During the World Cup Final, a controversial VAR review of Ivan Perisic (Croatia) handling the ball inside the penalty area led to a France penalty being awarded and scored. Despite the controversy, VAR passed its major trial in the World Cup and is making its way into the Premier League. The technology was intended to be introduced this season (2018/2019); however, football clubs opted to extend the trial for another year.

VAR in the 2018 World Cup and in the upcoming 2019/2020 season of the UEFA Champion’s League foreshadows a new age of fair and accurate football. The system is already in use in the Bundesliga (Germany), Serie A (Italy) and La Liga (Spain). Nonetheless, the Premier League has not followed suit, expressing apprehension towards it, but officially implementing VAR will undoubtedly contribute the integrity of football—in the Premier League and in other leagues across the globe.