Controversial video ref system set for Cup debut

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 The first time the referee makes a sign with his fingers and consults a screen on the sideline, the controversial VAR - video assistant refereeing system - will make its World Cup debut at Russia 2018.

After experiments in several FIFA tournaments, Serie A in Italy and the German Bundesliga this season, the technology is now well known in most countries.

VAR can be used in four scenarios - after a goal has been scored, for penalty decisions, red card decisions or for a case of mistaken identity of a player who has been booked or sent off.

"It's about avoiding major and obvious mistakes, not refereeing with technology," said Pierluigi Collina, chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee, during a VAR training program organized at the Italian national training center. "The goal has never been to check every minor incident."

At the World Cup, 13 referees will officiate exclusively by watching the control screens. And some of the 35 referees selected to officiate on the pitch will also move into the role of video referees for one or more matches.

"VAR can be our best friend because it's no longer possible to make a crucial error," said Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers.

The main sticking point remains the inexperience of some of the referees who have rarely used the new technology before the World Cup.

"All the referees involved have participated in numerous tournaments where video assistance has been used," French referee Clement Turpin told AFP.

How does it work?

Behind VAR, there will be the VOR - video operation room - where the assistants will be seated, along with four technical operators.

"There will be four video officials. The main VAR communicates with the central referee and can suggest whether he should come and check footage," said Roberto Rosetti, in charge of VAR for FIFA.

"The VAR assistant No 1 follows the match live, the No 2 assistant deals specifically with offsides and a third assistant is responsible for supporting the main VAR, to verify the respect of protocol and ensure good communication between the team," added the Italian.

FIFA will have a single operational center - as is the case in the Bundesliga - which is in Moscow and connected to all stadiums via a fibre optic network.

Collina - formerly considered one of the world's finest referees - also stressed that VAR officials would never have to cover more than one match a day.

"I was asked why the VARs would have to wear a referees' kit. It's because they sweat like they do on the pitch.

"It's not like watching a game on the couch while drinking coffee," said the 58-year-old.

The question of offside decisions remains extremely complex.

"It all happens so fast, that now we can say: 'If I really have a doubt, I let the player go and if he scores, we'll check the video'. It removes pressure," said French assistant referee Cyril Gringore.

Two additional cameras will be used at the World Cup, exclusively dedicated to offside decisions.

They will be "installed at a height to reinforce an area that, despite the 33 cameras used by broadcasters, was not covered optimally", said Sebastian Runge, head of FIFA's Technology Innovation Group.

In all cases, messages will be broadcast on giant video screens throughout the stadiums so spectators can see what decision is reached by VAR.

No replays will be shown until the on-pitch referee has made his decision.

"No slow motion will be broadcast before the decision is made; we don't want the referee to be influenced by the crowd," said Runge.

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