More details regarding the VAR training and implementation

The NBI is back with one big difference – we now have VAR.

It is important to remember that 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.

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 MLSZ have released a video showing a detailed look at the training and preparation that our match officials have undergone ahead of the season – shown below.

The MLSZ took the decision to introduce VAR, which will also include VOL (Virtual Offside Line), in 2019. Goal Line Technology (GLT) is not in use in the NBI for financial reasons. The cost to install the GLT cameras in all of the NBI grounds is high especially when compared to the amount of times that GLT would be needed to make a decision, in the event of it not being obvious to the naked eye if the ball has crossed the line or not. The cost was determined to be disproportionate to any benefits. It should be noted it was an area covered by AARs in previous seasons.

The MLSZ announced in 2020 that the intention was for VAR to be introduced at the start of the 20/21 season, however soon after the announcement was made the world was hit by a global pandemic. This caused significant delays. The MLSZ used the time to examine in detail each of the different systems available and make an informed decision as to which system we would adopt and which of the 6 system operators would win the tender. There are 3 systems available:

  1. A Centralised system. With this system all matches are followed in a single dedicated location. This is the system used in the Premier League where all the VARs are located in Stockley Park during games. The Russian league, where there are huge distances between clubs, also adopts this system and in extreme cases the VAR can be located up to 10,00km from a match. Former Hungarian FIFA referee, Kassai Viktor is the head of refereeing in Russia and is fully aware of this system. This system was also used during the recent Euros with all of the VARs located in Nyon.
  2. A decentralised system. This involves a dedicated VAR room being built/furnished at every ground. It is debatable whether this is a cost effective option for clubs with the amount of money they would have to invest in setting up the dedicated rooms, especially for the smaller clubs who may only end up spending 1 season in the NBI. They would also be the clubs least able to afford the extra expense.
  3. Mobile VAR units. This involves the system being installed into vans that can then travel to grounds for the game. The MLSZ in conjunction with the cubs have chosen this system as the best one for our league and we currently have 3 dedicated VAR mobile units. With 6 games per round it means that no more than 3 games can take place at the same time, and preferably just 2 games in case there is a fault in one of the units. The MLSZ are fully conversed with having staggered kick off times across 2-3 days, Friday-Sunday, as a standard practice so that will be nothing new to them. Zalaegerszeg and Kisvárda have the longest geographical distance in terms of travel, which will be taken into account when the MLSZ decides on the day and kick off times of each game.

Following an extensive evaluation process the MLSZ have gone with Canadian company Evertz Microsystems, to provide our system and the necessary technical background. Evertz have a lot of experience, they provide the VAR in the Belgian league and several major American sports.

Photo credit: Károly Árvai

“We chose the mobile car system, not the permanent placement of cameras and other devices. The service provider from which we use the devices uses the images of the cameras of Antenna Hungária, these are provided anyway due to the television broadcasts. It is not a horror cost, but it has to be paid, it is included in the entry fee of the teams, it means approximately 17 million forints per club per season. The basic costs, ie the training and education of the referees, will be borne by the MLSZ, ” said Márton Vági , Secretary General of the MLSZ in 2020.

An important task was to train the referees, using materials provided by FIFA and UEFA. There are three people sitting on the VAR bus: the video referee (the VAR), his assistant (AVAR) – they are professional Hungarian referees – and the operator handling the equipment. The VAR is in contact with the referee and will pass onto them if the VAR is reviewing any situation. The AVAR will continue to watch the live image to see if anything substantial happens. The MLSZ have trained qualified NB II referees as operators, so not only the person handling the technical equipment is sitting there, but also someone who understands the referees, knows which camera the VAR asks him to record, and what to look for in slow motion.

The training schedule

For the first few months the referees participated in theoretical training using training materials provided by FIFA and UEFA. In the spring they moved to a simulator, which as a replication of the inside of the mobile units. This stage included training sessions on how and when to intervene. As a guidance the review is carried out as the following

  1. What is the on-field decision?
  2. Check all possible incidents.
  3. Speak with the referee, operator and VAR.
  4. Switch camera angles, freeze POC and look in-between.
  5. Stop the game yes/no?
  6. Review yes/no?
  7. The referee always takes the final decision.

Whilst the 20/21 season was still going on the VAR buses arrived in Hungary. The next training step was for the referees to take them out to grounds and watch matches from inside the vans. They remained offline so the referees in the vans were not in contact with the on-field referee but they discussed when they would have intervened if the system had been live. This was reviewed in a later training session and feedback given as to whether the interventions would have been correct. This review also included the on-field referees so they were aware of if, when and how VAR would have intervened during their games.

The final training phase took place during the close season at the end of June. Matches were played non stop on 2 pitches at the Ikarus Sports Complex in Budapest. The participating referees spent some time as the on-field referee as well as watching matches from the vans. During the matches the VAR was in communication with the on-field referee and reviews were carried out as applicable. This helped them get used to the system in a live match setting. For those acting as VAR recordings were used from 12 different cameras. They were able to experiment with which camera scans the football field from exactly what angle, from what height, so that those sitting in front of monitors get the best picture of the disputed scenes. Roberto Rosetti, the head of the UEFA referee committee attended part of the I’ve training and was very satisfied with the quality and standard of the training.

During the spring training camp, that took place last weekend, the main focus was on VAR, although the LOTG theoretical tests were also done, along with the pre-season fitness tests.

The technical assistance is there to protect the referee from obvious mistakes and to help them make fewer wrong decisions. The International statistics to date show that the number of serious key match errors has dropped significantly with the use of VAR. The system is new, errors may occur in the future, as already mentioned not all incidents are ones that VAR can intervene in for a start. Despite the extensive training, it is one thing to practise with VAR in ‘safe’ training matches and a completely different matter to use it in more intensive live matches. Our referees, both the on-field ones and the VARs, will take time to adjust but will become more efficient and confident with it over the next few weeks. There will be moments where under pressure the VARs might take a bit more time to get the right camera angle they need to be able to conduct a reviewing the delay will feel as if it is taking forever, especially to the fans/players/managers waiting on a goal review, penalty or red card decision but these moments will become less in time. I hope we can all show our match officials some patience whilst they adjust.

As I didn’t finish typing this up before the Friday matches I can add a quick review of how the games went. In the first game – Paks v Mezőkövesd Zsóry, Berke Balázs was referee and has some VAR experience in UEFA matches. In this match the VAR was very smooth and intervention/disruption was minimal. Vad II István was VAR. VAR intervened at 45+5 with a penalty subsequently being awarded from a missed indent during a corner. Although all 5 goals were automatically reviewed only the 5th goal, was reviewed noticeably. It was an excellent introduction and was on par with how VAR worked at the Euros. If we can set this as the standard in Hungary then I don’t think anyone will have any complaints. Well done Berke Balázs and the VAR.

In the second game – Gyirmót FC Győr v MTK Budapest, it was not as smooth. Rookie referee Zierkelbach Péter was the on-field referee. Erdős József was VAR. This was his first live match with VAR. To be fair to Zierkelbach Péter he had other significant issues in the game with the floodlights failing and causing several delays. Several times during the game there were only two floodlights working fully, one not working at all and one on about half light to what it should have been and at one point none were working and a drinks break occurred during that period to help lessen the delays. It appeared to be a local issue as the apartments behind the ground had no lights either although street lights seemed to be working. In VAR terms in the 36th minute there was a VAR review for a possible red card, following the review the original yellow card stood. In the 54th minute there was a VAR goal review for possible handball. The goal stood there was no handball offence as outlined in the Laws of the Game. In the 88th minute there was a review for a possible red card, this one took a while (2-3 mins). Following consultation with the VAR, Zierkelbach Péter carried out an of-field review and determined that his original decision to issue a yellow card was incorrect and he withdrew the yellow card and issued a red card. Three major VAR reviews – two confirmed the original decisions and one, using an on-field review, corrected a decision from yellow card to red card. Although not as smooth as in the first game, it was not hugely interruptive apart from perhaps the on-field review, however as this prevented an incorrect decision being made it worked just as it should. Well done Zierkelbach Péter and the VAR.