Why France's VAR Moment at World Cup Will Go Into the History Books

Penalties! Red cards! Cases of mistaken identity?

New technology arrived at the World Cup on Saturday in the France vs. Australia match, as the new VAR, which stands for “video assistant referee,” came into play for the first time.

French striker Antoine Griezmann — he of the Forthnite dance goal celebration — was tripped inside the penalty box by Australia defender Josh Risdon. Referee Andres Cunha was following the breakaway on goal by Griezmann but didn’t call a penalty as he was at a poor angle to see it.

Video replay shown on television showed that Risdon had indeed clipped the feet of his opponent, and the VAR — which is actually four people, the main referee and three assistants — agreed.

VAR is poised to make a huge impact at the 2018 World Cup if more controversial decisions are corrected quickly by video review. If VAR works on the world’s biggest stage for soccer, expect to see more cautious leagues that want to avoid risk — like the Premier League in the UK — look to innovate with VAR. The next few weeks at the World Cup in Russia may change the future of soccer if VAR works as it should and doesn’t become a distraction.

In the 2018 World Cup in Russia, there are 13 VARs and they are based in a central location in Moscow. They monitor video feeds of play at the twelve stadiums via a fiber optic network, so there’s no worry about laggy wifi with VAR this World Cup. Word on a decision is radioed from the Moscow control room to the stadium and then to the on-field referee.

Where are VAR cameras in a stadium?

This diagram below shows precisely where the VAR cameras are set up. The red cameras are “super slow motion,” the blue cameras are “ultra slow motion,” the purple ones are HD cameras, and the yellow globes are VAR offside cameras:

This chart shows where VAR cameras are placed in each of the twelve stadiums used at the 2018 World Cup in Russia

In what situations is VAR used?

The video assistant referee is used in these four situations:

  • For a goal or an offense leading to a goal
  • A Penalty decision (like happened between Griezmann and Risdon)
  • Direct red card incidents
  • Mistaken identity (this actually happens)

Griezmann’s penalty was awarded and VAR was used for the first time in the World Cup on Saturday, and it represents a big step in the slow adoption of VAR. While video review has been used in the NFL in some form since 1976, it’s a fairly new and somewhat controversial innovation in soccer.

The 2018 World Cup stadium locations map, relative to the Moscow VAR center, or the VOR -- "video operations room."

Traditionalists view refereeing mistakes as part of the sport, and others worry about review interrupting a sport that, unlike American sports, has no time-outs and relatively few stoppages in play. However, VAR was tested in August 2016 by the second-tier United Soccer League in the United States, and then in Major League Soccer in 2017, and then at the 2017 Confederations Cup. VAR was used in England during select FA Cup matches this past spring and will be used England’s League Cup this fall, VAR will be used. However, clubs in Premier League in the UK, arguably the biggest soccer league in the world, voted against instituting VAR in the 2018-19 season.

Get ready to see on-field referees drawing a square box in the air a lot more in the coming years: