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VAR - A Brief History

6 January 2018

Games between Palace and Brighton and Hove Albion are always big occasions, but their upcoming FA Cup tie will be historic. The Eagles and the Seagulls will be guinea pigs on the south coast as a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) will be used for the first time in a competitive game in England, so how does it work and has it been a success so far?

For years, football fans have been debating about the introduction of video technology as fervently as the latest controversial red card, penalty or goal that has gone against their team. The clamour for change seems to be growing weekly, with incorrect decisions costing teams precious points which could ultimately have huge consequences.

Palace can point to their own recent injustices, such as Oumar Niasse’s dive or Joshua King’s tug-back on Jeffrey Schlupp that led to Bournemouth’s opening goal earlier this month. Had the correct calls been made, then the Eagles’ hopes of avoiding the drop could have been boosted by four additional points.

The old argument is that “these things even themselves up over time”, but the International Football Association Board are determined to consign that to history. Back in June 2016, the body that determines the Laws of the Game finally relented to decades’ worth of pressure and approved trials for video referees.

Former Premier League official and technical director of the IFAB David Elleray said: “The time has come for the debate to be based on evidence. Everyone agreed that we needed to see if it works and whether or not it benefits the game. The initial testing will deliberately have a limited focus to minimize the impact of the flow and emotions which are crucial to football.”

With this in mind, only four types of incident were deemed to be worth of reviewing: potential penalty and straight red card offences, the moments before a goal is scored and clearing up cases of mistaken identity. Guidelines the referee and the VAR should follow include real-time speed replays for fouls, and slow motion replays reserved for “point of contact” offences, such as

Reviews can be triggered by the VAR, based outside the stadium surrounded by monitors, if they spot something the on-field officials haven’t, or the referee requesting assistance from the VAR for an incident. He can then simply accept the VAR’s verdict, or watch the action back on a pitchside monitor before
making his judgement.

Trials began in four MLS matches in August 2016 before then being used sporadically in international friendlies, and by the end of the year the system was being utilised in the FIFA World Club Cup. It was then fully adopted by the Australian A-League and MLS during the 2017 season, with Italy, Germany and Portugal’s top-flights following suit, while FIFA agreed to use it for the 2018 World Cup, where the system will encounter the most scrutiny, potentially making or breaking it.

This is because - even with VAR - controversies still occur. In last summer’s FIFA Confederation Cup final, Chile’s Gonzalo Jara was unpunished for a blatant elbow on Germany’s Timo Werner despite a review, and in the same competition there was also criticism about the lengthy stoppages required to come to a conclusion.

In England’s first experience of VAR in June, Raphael Varane became the first player to be sent off via video technology during France’s 3-2 win over the Three Lions, but even that decision to dismiss the Real Madrid man for the denial of a clear goalscoring opportunity had plenty of grey areas and dissenters.

The trials have now made it to these shores. England’s recent friendly against Germany was the first occurrence, and now Palace will be involved in the first competitive outing for VAR. That night in Brighton will go a long way to helping English football makes its own big decision regarding the use of video technology, but for fans the debate will continue to rage.

Roy Hodgson spoke about the system being used at Monday's game during his pre-match press conference on Friday and he believes it will take time to get it right and that it could bring added pressure to the match referees. 

"I think if people can stick to the main objective of VAR which is to prevent very obvious and clear miscarriages of justice and not to review every situation then it can only be a positive thing but it is going to take an awful lot of work before people will get it to a level that will be acceptable.

"It will be very difficult for the referees and I don’t know necessarily know whether this is making the referees job an awful lot easier because it is putting them under even more pressure to get things right." 

This features first appeared in the Crystal Palace v Manchester City matchday programme. To read more articles such as this, plus exclusive player interviews and other content ahead of each home game, you can subscribe.

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