In 2018, VAR was introduced in several major football tournaments, as required by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the rules-making body of the International Football Association. It debuted in the 2018 World Cup. The VAR performs the duties of an assistant referee in football, to assist the referee’s decisions in disputes, based on video recordings, and communicating via headphones in very specific circumstances. The VAR can and will only intervene when they have the evidence for a clear and obvious mistake in four match-changing situations:
1: goals and offences leading up to a goal,
2: penalty decisions and offences leading up to a penalty,
3: direct red card incidents, and
4: mistaken identity.
*This includes goals scored after a foul during the attacking phase, or from an offside position.
The VAR training of the Hungarian referees ended today, Sunday 27th June 2021, in line with the requirements of the International Football Association. This means that VAR will be introduced in the NBI from July when the season starts and Hungary will no longer employ the 6 man team with AARs.
The head of the video referee project, Zelei János, said at the Ikarus circuit in Mátyásföld on Saturday that the MLSZ launched the VAR preparation project in August 2019 and originally wanted to use the technology in the 2020/21 season. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the project suffered delays and the introduction of VAR into the NBI was delayed for 1 year.
Zelei emphasised that the project consists of four main elements.
1: The stadiums of the NB I teams must be technically suitable for receiving VAR,
2: A FIFA-approved company that provides the technical background of the system must be selected,
3: The NBI referees must be fully VAR trained, and
4: The relevant MLSZ regulations must be revised.
Zelei advised that the MLSZ have inspected and reviewed all of the sports stadiums of the Sports Organisations/teams who have won the right to start the season as a professional club, from the perspective of their infrastructure. The necessary improvements were required to be made by the end of May.
He added that the MLSZ had put out to tender for a FIFA approved company for the technical background and the winning bid was from Studiotech Hungry Kft., a Hungarian subsidiary of the Canadian company Evertz Microsystem Ltd. A technical test was conducted on 25th April following which the company’s system was approved by FIFA.
Regarding the training of referees, Zelei said that the course consisted of nine overlapping stages. The theoretical training, followed by the practice before the simulator, and then the offline test in the VAR minibus. The online training has been in progress and was expected to be successfully completed on Sunday.
The offline test was conducted during the last six rounds of the spring NB I. At the time, there was no contact between the cameraman sitting on the VAR bus and the referee of the match. In the final stage of the training, the referee has applied the online practice system, and the referee and the video referee have had real-time contact. With the successful completion of the online test, MLSZ will have met all the conditions required by FIFA, so the VAR system can be put into use at the end of July.
Zelei said on the MTI issue that there will be three people on the VAR bus, the video referee, the assistant video referee, and the playback management operator. A total of 16 video referees and 15 assistants have been trained.
He emphasised that as per the Laws of the Game and the guidelines from IFAB, the VAR can only intervene when there has been a clear and obvious error identified by the camera images available to him, when he can then submit a review to the on-field referee. The on field referee can either change his decision at the advice of the VAR or conduct an on field review (OFR) where he would watch the incident back at the pitch side monitor and can then either stick with his original call or change his decision. Zelei did not state what guidelines the referees have been given in terms of carrying out an OFR however, the FIFA guidelines are that a decision that is a matter of fact e.g. offside and mistaken identity the VAR advice will be taken but with a subjective decision e.g. penalty or red card the referee should have the option of doing an OFR.
There are currently three VAR buses, so there can only be 3 NBI games on any given day. Zelei added that the introduction of the system is MLSZ’s largest technical project so far in their 120-year-old history, and the association is looking forward to its application.
Finally Zelei drew attention to the fact that the activation of the system does not completely eliminate the erroneous decisions that the referee may make, but hopes to eliminate serious errors.
The latter comment is very important for people to remember. VAR is not the holy grail, it will not eradicate every error, some errors may well be made that are not within the remit of the VAR e.g. a missed foul anywhere on the pitch that should have been a free kick, possibly a yellow card. That error would stand and VAR cannot intervene.
Coaches, players and fans will need to be patient, there will be some teething problems, they are inevitable with changes as huge as this. Bognár Tamás, Vad István and possibly Berke Balázs are the only referees starting the season with VAR match experience. The rest of them have done the course and taken part in training games but they will still take time to adapt to using it in competitive matches.
It is also worth mentioning Assistant Referees, they have spent several years being coached to flag immediately for offside – they will now have to stop doing so. I’m sure coaches, players and fans will increase the complaints about “late” flags, it is not a case of late flags, never has been, but a case of ARs following the guidelines from FIFA. With the introduction of VAR, AR’s are now instructed to not flag until after the ball has gone in the net, in a game where VAR is in use. The reason for this is simple – a goal will be reviewed for offside and ruled out if applicable, however, if an AR has flagged for offside and the referee stops the game they could potentially prevent a legitimate goal from being scored, if their flag was wrong and there was no offside offence. The former can be corrected, the latter cannot – both can be game changing. Up until now the complaint regarding “late” flags mainly comes from people not understanding that a player can be in an offside position but isn’t considered offside within the LOTG, unless specific criteria are met, and an AR will not flag until they actually become offside within the LOTG. Some may well complain that when the offside was so blatant and obvious that the AR should have flagged anyway and whilst I personally agree with that, it is not the instructions that ARs have to adhere to during matches. We all need to remember that however silly it seems, when an offside is so obvious, that they are still correct to not flag for it.
Euro 2020 has shown that when used correctly and efficiently VAR can be a good thing. It will not be that seamless when first introduced into the NBI but as the match officials get more experienced and players become more used to the changes that can and will impact them then we will hopefully see it grow into the same positive impact we know it can have.
Photo credit: MLSZ featuring Solymosi Péter during VAR training at the Ikarus circuit in Mátyásföld