IFAB expected to vote on recommendation to roll out VARs across world football

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The roll-out of video assistant referees (VARs) throughout professional football will move one step closer on Monday when the game’s law-makers meet in Zurich.

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) is holding its annual business meeting and the use of video replays tops the agenda.

IFAB’s five members, the Football Associations of the four home nations and FIFA, are expected to vote on an “indicative recommendation” for VARs to be approved at the body’s annual general meeting on March 2.

That will put VARs in football’s laws, giving the green light to their use at the World Cup this summer and competitions around the globe from next season.

While English football has only recently started trialling VARs, with mixed results, there have been extensive pilots in other national leagues, including the Bundesliga, Major League Soccer and Serie A.

The results of those trials, and the ones FIFA has been running at several of its competitions over the last 18 months, have been analysed for IFAB by a university in Belgium.

That analysis will be discussed at Monday’s meeting and later released to the media. It is understood the data will show a decision is corrected by a VAR once every three games and the time each review takes has been greatly reduced with practice.

FIFA has made no secret of its desire to use VARs at Russia 2018 and has already, in its view, successfully used them at several age-group tournaments, two Club World Cups and last summer’s World Cup dress rehearsal, the Confederations Cup.

As British audiences have recently learned, the proposal for video reviews is that they are only used in four match-changing circumstances: to decide if goals should be given, penalty decisions, red-card incidents and cases of mistaken identity.

The FA has now run three VAR trials in FA Cup games, while the English Football League used video replays in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final between Chelsea and Arsenal.

The first three games went well for the new system, which is based on a VAR watching the action at the Premier League’s match centre near Heathrow, and then communicating any potential reviews to the match official, who can also request for incidents to be reviewed. The VAR has access to every television camera angle and can slow the footage down.

Kelechi Iheanacho's goal for Leicester against Fleetwood was awarded after the use of VAR
Kelechi Iheanacho’s goal for Leicester against Fleetwood was awarded after the use of VAR (EMPICS)

The following night, however, saw the system’s key limitation: it still uses human beings.

On this occasion, Jones watched Chelsea’s Willian fall in the box against Norwich 13 times but apparently failed to watch the right angle, at the right speed, and missed what the television audience could see was a clear trip.

Willian was booked for diving against Norwich
Willian was booked for diving against Norwich (Mike Egerton/PA)

The FA and the Professional Game Match Officials Limited, the organisation that provides officials for games in England, are understood to be confident that VAR decisions will only improve with use and some teething problems are to be expected.

The next tests for the system in England are scheduled for Arsenal v Chelsea in the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final on Wednesday and Liverpool v West Brom in the fourth round of the FA Cup next Saturday.

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