VAR still controversial but impact largely positive in Europe, MLS

The 2017-18 season has seen several top leagues use video assistant referee (VAR) in a bid to refine the refereeing process and cut down on controversy surrounding contentious, game-changing decisions. We took a look back in November, but now that seasons are approaching their climax, it's time for an update.


Key incidents reviewed by VAR this season (through Dec. 16): 291
Incidents correctly overturned after review (through Dec. 16): 37

After initial problems with technology during the first couple of matchdays, when communication between the VAR HQ in Cologne and stadiums broke down entirely, there have been no major technical problems.

In the latest official figures, 37 of 48 incidents were correctly overturned in the first half of the season and 11 were incorrect. On two other occasions the referee stayed with his initial decision, against VAR advice. At that time, the DFB said: "This cannot be our measuring stick, and they have to go towards zero."

On the first seven matchdays of the season's second half, VAR overturned 10 decisions, most of which looked at offside decisions. Twice VAR checked for a red card, but in both cases the player remained on the pitch.

But a lack of transparency for players, coaches and fans inside the stadium still does not help, while some have raised concern about the apparent problem of not finding a way to overrule wrong offside calls on the pitch. This has led to some referees allowing the game to be played on, with VAR intervening later.

On Feb. 17, rock-bottom Cologne scored a crucial stoppage-time winner against Hannover, but it was later overruled for an offside in the build-up. With all of the stadium already celebrating, some argued that VAR takes away the emotion of attending a football match.

Overall, though, after the initial controversy surrounding its introduction, VAR is now more acceptable and most of the arguments have been about HQ remaining silent instead of overturning decisions. "It appears that people prefer the VAR to stay quiet," Alex Feuerherdt of German referee blog Collinas Erben said. -- Stephan Uersfeld.

Serie A

Key incidents reviewed by VAR this season (through Jan. 15): 1,078
Incidents correctly overturned after review (through Jan. 15): 60

After some initial teething problems -- mainly linked to the time it took for decisions to be taken -- VAR is now receiving almost universal acclaim. Aside from the odd grumble, the technology has led to a decrease in the trend of discussing refereeing decisions to exhaustion after games.

Instead, there is more focus on postmatch interviews and the perennial suspicion that top clubs are receiving refereeing favours -- not least after the 2006 Calciopoli scandal -- is being eliminated, or at least reduced.

The one persistent complaint about VAR in Serie A is that it still takes too long for certain decisions to be made. It has not been uncommon to see both teams line up to restart, only for a goal to be overruled and play instead recommencing with a goal kick or free kick, up to three minutes later. Once that aspect has been resolved, VAR is expected to be unanimously regarded as an improvement to the Italian game.

Nicola Rizzoli, the former referee overseeing the project, says there is "no going back" after meeting with coaches and representatives of all 20 Serie A clubs in mid-January to discuss the first half of the season.

"We must not abuse situations, and the VAR should be used as little as possible, this is the primary objective," Rizzoli told Radio 24. "In any case, I would like to point out that none of the referees view it as an enemy." He was also pleased to report how the average time for decisions to be taken had been cut from 2:35 minutes in the first three rounds of fixtures to 1:15 since, an important step towards a more efficient use of the technology. -- Ben Gladwell

Major League Soccer

Key incidents reviewed by VAR this season (Aug. 5 to Oct. 22): 46
Incidents correctly overturned after review: 33

VAR was implemented by Major League Soccer after the league's All-Star game on Aug. 2 and has been accompanied by its share of controversy, but given the fundamental hope is that incorrect calls will be reduced, that seems to be the case so far.

All told, in 137 regular-season games, there were 1,372 checks, with VAR recommending 46 reviews. Of those 46, 37 were overturned, while the other nine were upheld. The Professional Referee Organization, which handles refereeing for MLS and other leagues in North America, stated that only four of the 37 decisions were incorrect.

The league is also averaging one review every three matches played, which means there has been minimal disruption to the flow of games. Although there have been and will continue to be mistakes, the implementation of VAR has proven to be largely positive.

And nothing has changed in the intervening months before the start of the new season this weekend, except for one addition: "If there is a stoppage of play after an incident and play restarts before the incident is checked, a referee cannot go back to it unless video review identifies an act of violent conduct, spitting, or extremely offensive or abusive behaviors." -- Jeff Carlisle

Primeira Liga

Key incidents reviewed by VAR this season: No official number given
Incidents correctly overturned after review (as of Feb. 26): 44

With conspiracy theories involving corrupt officials a constant scourge blighting the game in Portugal, hope that the introduction of the VAR would diminish refereeing controversies have proved unfounded. The shouting has merely shifted from "the referee got it wrong; he must be corrupt" to "why was VAR used/not used for that incident? Corruption!"

That said, the benefits of the system are widely acknowledged. In the first 24 rounds of Primeira Liga matches, 44 decisions were reversed and corrected by the referee after consultation with the VAR. In an Estoril vs. Sporting match, a goal for each team was ruled out while a goal wrongly disallowed for Estoril was validated, the referee having initially got all three decisions wrong. "VAR is a tool that helps the referees and will aid justice in the sport when it is properly used," said Sporting coach Jorge Jesus.

But controversy raged in the Porto-Benfica match when VAR failed to validate a Porto goal incorrectly ruled out for offside when a defending player near the touchline was playing the scorer onside. It appears the video referee did not have the full view of the pitch -- most camera angles showed only the action in the box -- or had simply focused his attention on the goalmouth.

Experience will improve things but the biggest issue remains when VAR should intervene. Despite the Portuguese FA clearly outlining the four instances -- for goals, if a foul or offside is suspected; for penalties, red cards and mistaken identity -- referee application has been inconsistent, with some choosing not to consult VAR.

VAR has not proven a panacea but nobody is calling for it to be scrapped and fears it will take too much time out of the game have proved unfounded. Oh, and don't forget to ban big flags in front of the VAR cameras! -- Tom Kundert.