VAR: Introduction and history in the Premier League

Jude Summerfield
Chris Kavanagh with a VAR monitor
Chris Kavanagh with a VAR monitor / Marc Atkins/GettyImages
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Love it or hate it, VAR is here to stay. In the Premier League, technology has been accepted in the modern game and steps are being taken to improve officiating in football.

However, referees are still learning how to implement the new methods, leading to some serious teething issues - issues which show no sign of being solved anytime soon.

Here's how the process came into use in the Premier League.


What is VAR?

A VAR is a video assistant referee in a football match who reviews decisions made by the on-field referee. They watch highlights via a high number of screens and review events in slow motion to advise on-field referees. Its purpose is to eliminate clear and obvious mistakes that can be missed by officials in real time.

They are brought into play during four scenarios:

  • Goal/no goal
  • Penalty/no penalty
  • Direct red card
  • Mistaken identity

The VAR checks each decision which falls under these four categories. If no mistake is spotted, play continues. There can be delays while the VAR ascertains whether or not there has been a clear and obvious mistake - much to fan frustration.

If action is needed when a clear and obvious error is spotted, three scenarios can play out:

  • The decision can be overturned on advice of VAR
  • On-field review where footage is checked
  • Referee ignores VAR advice

The referee then explains their decision to the VAR and proceeds with their desired course of action. A VAR cannot overturn the decision of the on-field referee.


VAR in the Premier League

When was VAR introduced?

The use of video assistant referees was first introduced into the Premier League in the 2019/20 season. Extensive testing on the system had taken place in the years before, including trialling it in FA Cup and Carabao Cup matches.

Why was VAR introduced?

Essentially, to give referees more resources to make correct decisions in the big moments.

Current technology and social media's reach mean fans can spot mistakes, so using that technology to improve officiating made sense given its adoption in other sports.

In 2016, the International Football Association Board approved trials for video referees or "live experiments". By March 2018, IFAV had allowed the use of VARs and later that year Premier League clubs voted to introduce it in the 2019/20 season.

The responsibility of VAR has since transferred from IFAB to FIFA, though the parties continue to work closely together regarding VAR protocol and any related laws.

Has it been successful?

In 2022, criticism of VAR is as rife as it has ever been. While supposedly operating under the "minimal interference, maximum benefit" philosophy, the consistency of decision-making has been poor and a clear change in direction is needed.

Every team in the Premier League has endured its fair share of VAR blunders, but this season things have been so bad that a review with PGMOL took place. That occurred after goals were controversially chalked off for West Ham and Chelsea earlier this month.

The main issue in the early stages of VAR has been the human nature of refereeing. Some VARs have different thresholds than others on what they consider a foul or even their interpretation of the phrase 'clear and obvious'.

Given decisions can be subjective from referee to referee, goals have been getting disallowed when they shouldn't. Managers consistently call for consistency, but currently, it seems hard to imagine a VAR system which keeps every referee, player, manager and fan happy.

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