On 1 September 2016, FIFA successfully conducted its first official “semi-live” Video Assistant Referees (VAR) test during the friendly match between Italy and France in Bari. This first ever “semi-live” VAR test is a positive experience on which FIFA is determined to further building its VAR knowhow.
“With VAR, we help the referees and we protect the game," President Infantino said. "We turned a new page in football’s history book. After this very pleasant experience, we will see where the VAR tests are leading us. We need more tests. We will continue with testing VAR until 2018 [when the IFAB will decide on VAR]"
Besides the excellent technical setup of a multitude of cameras and flawless radio communications involved, the high-level training and broad experience on Video Assistant Refereeing of the Dutch match officials completed the sensitive task. The positive outcome will enable the FIFA/IFAB VAR experiment to take an important step forward.
After the representatives of both teams as well as the Dutch FA (KNVB) and IFAB (who have assessed the situation on-site) had agreed on this “semi-live” test, FIFA decided that during the friendly between Italy and France, VARs may communicate video replay information to the referee to assist him in the event of a clear error in a match-changing decision or a serious missed incident (as defined in the experiment protocol). Controversial situations, which would need more time to be analysed properly, have not been reviewed.
Also, again for practical reasons, FIFA referee Björn Kuipers of the Netherlands did not review any incident on-site (on-field review). This element of the VAR experiment protocol was exceptionally not being used during this match, because FIFA has not introduced on-site screen reviewing at this stage of VAR testing yet. Referee Kuipers was assisted through radio communications only. Therefore, the test was defined as “semi-live” instead of “live” which would have included on-site reviewing by the Match Official.
Incidents where millions of fans witness a clear mistake in a game changing situation but the refs can’t react, will be strongly minimised in the future.
Gianni Infantino, FIFA President, on the future of VARs.
On the setup provided by the “Hawk-Eye” company, the VARs detected two different scenes throughout the whole game worthy to communicate to the Match Official. The first was four minutes into the game, when Djibril Sidibé fouled Daniele De Rossi. The VAR helped the referee after reviewing the scene by stating that a yellow card is sufficient and a red card not appropriate. The second scene occurred in the penalty area when De Rossi's header was supposedly stopped by hand of French defender Layvin Kurzawa. Kuipers had halted the game (at a free throw situation) to get advice from his VAR and eventually take the decision: no penalty kick. On both occasions, the decisions taken by the referee, assisted by VAR, were accepted immediately by the players.
“In the first of two incidences where my VAR addressed me by radio (in the fourth minute), the Italian players pressed me to show the red card to the French player," Kuipers said. "Chiellini for instance said: Rosso! After reviewing the scene, my VAR informed me nine or ten seconds later that it was sufficient to show the yellow card. The players immediately accepted my decision."
“In the second incident, my VAR advised me seven seconds later not to decide for penalty," Kuipers said. "The players again accepted immediately. This trust by the players gave me a lot of confidence."
“We need to and we want to help and protect the referees," FIFA President Gianni Infantino added. He further stressed that “we must use it in a way that does not have a negative impact on the flow of the game and the game itself.”
The FIFA President continued by saying that "we have to make sure that only clear mistakes are being reviewed by the VARs. Clear mistakes can always happen, but in the future they can be avoided. This way, FIFA can build trust between the fans and the game. Incidents where millions of fans witness a clear mistake in a game changing situation but the refs can’t react, will be strongly minimised in the future."
"Football sometimes seems to be stuck in medieval ages," Zvonimir Boban, FIFA Deputy Secretary General (Football) said. "Innovations are accepted only after a difficult process of balancing pros and cons. We are often scared of new things in our sport, but after a while we see the positive effects of innovation and we start to appreciate this. When it became a rule that passing back to one’s own goalkeeper is prohibited, we were very happy to see the positive effects on the game."
President Infantino made it very clear that the referee will remain the sole authority of decision taking in the game. “The assistant referees will not be substituted by VAR or any other technology. We will not cannibalise our game.”
The next steps in the VAR experiment consist of further tests and, most importantly, the training of Video Assistant Referees in order to ensure a high level of knowledge with this powerful help and protection tool for referees. The next opportunity for a FIFA VAR test will be on 15 November when Italy face Germany.
The Match Officials Team for the friendly between Italy and France on 1 September 2016 in Bari consisted of:
Björn Kuipers, FIFA Referee
Sander Van Roekel, 1st Assistant Referee
Erwin Zeinstra, 2nd Assistant Referee
Laurentius Liesveld, 4th Official
Danny Makkelie, 1st Video Assistant Referee
Paulus Van Boekel, 2nd Video Assistant Referee