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Video Assistant Referee debuts at this summer's World Cup thanks to KU Leuven research

20 March 2018

The coming World Cup will be the first to have a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) which uses video imaging to help referees make crucial decisions during the game. A team of KU Leuven researchers, lead by professor Werner Helsen, analysed the use of a VAR.

It goes without saying that all eyes will be on the Belgian Red Devils this summer, but a few researchers at KU Leuven will keep a close eye on the Video Assistant Referee as well. The International Football Association Board (IFAB) and the world football association FIFA have given the green light to use a VAR at the coming world cup, a decision based on research conducted at KU Leuven.

Watching football in the name of science

The VAR's job is to assist the referee on the field in four different phases of the game: goals, red cards, penalty kicks and cases of mistaken identity, like when the wrong player gets booked. If the images show that the referee on the field has made an error, the VAR will notify him of this. He can then watch said error and, if needed, correct his decision.

The research conducted at KU Leuven eventually lead to the use of a VAR being approved for this summer's FIFA World Cup in Russia. For this, professor Movement and Rehabilitation Science Werner Helsen and his teammates Thibaud Nijssen and Jochim Spitz watched football. A lot of football. They analysed the use of a VAR in more than 1,000 games in over 20 different countries.

The research

(Video in Dutch - English subtitles optional through video settings)

The scientists from Leuven investigated three research questions:

  • Does the number of correct decisions increase by using a VAR?
  • How much time is lost after an intervention by the VAR?
  • Does the VAR's presence lead to a greater sense of justice and more fair play?

Their research showed an increase in the ref's decision accuracy: with the help of a VAR, the percentage of correct decisions rises from 93% to 98,8%. Nearly 70% of the games aren't stopped to review a decision made by the ref. When it does, it takes up an average of 55 seconds. Next to that, the VAR also stimulates righteous decisions: unsportsmanlike behaviour is more often penalised with a red card, benefiting the game's fair play.

All eyes on the VAR

Analysts and football commentators will have their hands full discussing the VAR's debut this summer, but professor Helsen is confident. "I expect the ref's results to increase even further since they''re getting more and more familiar with the system. Hopefully, their decisions will have a positive outcome on the course of the tournament. We'll be twice as happy iIf these decisions turn out to be advantageous for the Belgian Red Devils."

Source: KU Leuven

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