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Video-assisted referees help make tough calls at the World Cup

An analysis of 1,000 matches found the accuracy of calls went from 93 percent to 98.3 percent when VAR was used.
by Alyssa Newcomb /
Image: The video assisted-referee (VAR) video operation room at the 2018 World Cup International Broadcast Centre
The video assisted-referee (VAR) video operation room at the 2018 World Cup International Broadcast Centre in Moscow on June 9, 2018.Yuri Kochetkov / EPA

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For the first time ever at the FIFA World Cup, video-assisted refereeing is being used to help make tough calls that could change the momentum of a match.

So should fans blame the referees or the technology? The jury is still out on that one.

The video-assisted referee system — called VAR for short — has already been put to use several times since the World Cup began on Thursday.

The VAR team isn't on the field. Instead, sitting in a central broadcast center in Moscow, there is one video assistant referee, four replay operators, and three assistants. In the command center, the group has access to 33 camera feeds and two offside cameras to help them make what’s hopefully the right call.

FIFA has selected 13 top referees for the job during the World Cup — and they’ll be solely dedicated to VAR. And for an added layer of transparency, there are cameras on the VAR team, so the world can watch as they look at their cameras and make a decision.

VAR calls are posted on FIFA.com and on the official app.

The technology was thrust into the spotlight on Monday when England fans called into question the VAR's choice to not award two clear penalties when captain Harry Kane appeared to be fouled in the match against Tunisia. FIFA reportedly plans to review the calls.

VAR worked in Tunisia's favor in the thirty-third minute, when a striker and England's goalkeeper had an elbow-to-face collision. The technology reviewed the penalty call and awarded Tunisia a penalty, which allowed them to tie the game 1-1, making the match a nail biter for England fans until Kane scored a second, late goal to win the match.

Soccer fans are a spirited bunch, and it's safe to say that not everyone is thrilled about the use of technology to help make decisions. An editorial published last week by soccer fan Chris Nee in New Scientist warned that VAR was destroying the game.

“The results have been disastrous. Implementation has been inconsistent and disruptive. Decisions take too long to reach, a problem often compounded by a lack of communication to supporters in the stadium,” Nee wrote.

Image: The screen signals a VAR review during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group F football
The screen signals a VAR review during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group F football match between Sweden and South Korea at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium on June 18, 2018.Johannes Eisele / AFP - Getty Images

But the numbers may speak for themselves. An analysis of 1,000 matches found the accuracy of calls went from 93 percent to 98.3 percent when VAR was used, according to FIFA’s website.

With the World Cup still in the group stages, it's a safe bet the world can expect quite a few VAR calls to be made before the final, on July 15.

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