ask the ref

Ask The Ref – VAR – What is it? Who operates it and what does it entail?

With most sports being cancelled for the next few weeks due to the Covid 19 outbreak and therefore with no games to concentrate on, we have decided to take a closer look behind the scenes of VAR, to fully understand it.

VAR – the Video Assistant Referee

A system to aid refereeing decisions the Premier League have adopted this season under the IFAB protocol – that being ‘one protocol – used by all’.

In short VAR is used for serious missed incidents where a match official has made a clear and obvious error within four match changing situations.

They being:


Every goal is checked re offside and whether an offence took place in the immediate build up; offside is factual and is not subject to clear and obvious. It’s been decided offside is zero tolerance and you are or not, irrespective of how tight the margins.

Penalty decisions

Whether the ball is inside or outside the penalty area or whether or not a hand or arm was used are factual. You must bear in mind that a foul is subjective and therefore decisions debated by supporters will not necessarily be unanimous.

Direct red cards

Either given or missed will be reviewed.

Mistaken identity

Fortunately a rarity, but the most famous being the Gibbs/Oxlade-Chamberlain incident for Arsenal at Stamford Bridge some years ago where the wrong player was dismissed.

Let’s try and walk through the above then and highlight some match incidents so far that have occurred.

Goals – as stated not subject to clear and obvious and therefore the parameters are quite clear.

Recently in the Arsenal v West Ham match, Arsenal player Mesut Ozil was given offside in the build up to Alexandre Lacazette’s goal. I can fully understand at the speed of movement the naked eye would think offside. However, VAR correctly intervened and recommended the referee to award the goal as Ozil started his run from an onside, albeit it very tight, position.

Earlier in the season John Lundstrum was adjudged by VAR to have been offside in build up to a Sheffield United goal at Spurs. The distance was minimal but, as with Ozil, the VAR doesn’t take distance into consideration and the goal was ruled out.

Penalties – Michael Oliver awarded a penalty for a trip on Hudson-Odoi at Burnley during October. Watching live I fully agreed with him. VAR checked, and rightly, advised Michael to rescind the penalty and yellow card the Chelsea player for simulation. A tough call for the referee but without doubt a correct one, when he worked with the VAR, as no contact had actually been made.

When Manchester City entertained their local rivals United in December we saw VAR act positively the other way.

Bernardo Silva tripped Marcus Rashford inside the penalty area. Unfortunately for referee Anthony Taylor, Silva’s body blocked his view of the trip and play was allowed to continue.

VAR immediately checks the decision and at the next stoppage in play recommends Anthony return to the original offence and award a penalty which was impossible for the onfield official to detect.

Red cards – Ironically on New Year’s Day we saw contrasting decisions correctly overturned by the VAR.

At Watford referee Andy Madely decided yellow card for Christian Kabasele for fouling Joto. The VAR recognised that it was actually a DOGSO offence (denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity) and therefore recommended an upgrade to a red.

Later that day Graham Scott dismissed Aaron Cresswell of West Ham for a lunging challenge. After checking the VAR advised the referee to rescind the red and award a yellow card as it was felt the challenge wasn’t of excessive force or with intensity and was adjudged reckless.

As you can see it can and has to work both ways.

In conclusion, a few things to remember:

The referee will always make the final decision;

VAR will not achieve 100% accuracy but will ensure more correct decisions are reached;

Only clear and obvious errors will be overturned;

Offside and whether or not a foul/handball occurred inside or outside the penalty area are not subject to clear and obvious.

I hope that’s given everyone an insight into the process. Next week I’ll be explaining how it’s evolved since August and the use of the RRA (referee’s review areas). Or as most spectators will describe – the pitchside monitors.

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