Much has been written about the various successes and failures of the VAR system since its roll out in England this month, but one person who has not got much attention is the Replay Operator (RO).
Each match has a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) who works with an Assistant VAR (AVAR) and RO in a video operation room. The VAR watches the live action on TV and ‘checks’ every incident, using replays where necessary. The video replay technology is a tailor-made system for football, which is operated by the RO, and provides the VAR with the best available camera angles and replay speeds in the fastest possible time.
We are so used to the various TV broadcasters getting to the most critical camera angle within seconds of a controversial incident; we can forget that the people normally responsible in the TV studios are consummate professionals in their ability to do just that, which they have been doing for years!
So spare a thought for Neil Swarbrick and Andy Garrett, who have been thrown into the lion’s den again, and are reliant upon the RO to manipulate the equipment at the same speed and produce the same results as the main broadcaster, so they can advise the Match Official on what they have just seen from an angle that the referee did not have.
The skill set that the VAR brings to this piece is primarily the ability to assimilate the information regarding the action on the field of play, and the expectation is that they do that within a nanosecond! In the few games we have seen the technology used in England this month, the results might actually have been better if the VARs had just been watching the TV coverage, rather than trying navigate the numerous screens they have in front of them like ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’, to get the best angle before communicating their opinion to the referee.
So that’s why the RO needs to be highly trained and have the skills required for the smooth running of the system. Yes there are two VARs for every game, but one is watching the live action whilst the other reviews an incident. So in order for the system to fulfil its objectives, the technical expertise in manipulating the TV coverage will be as important as the knowledge of the Laws of the Game within the VAR studio. This will not be a problem for big competitions like the forthcoming World Cup, but it might be the difference between total confidence and/or mistrust in the system, when used regularly in domestic competitions, unless the back-room set-up is sufficiently resourced by experts.
The following are extracts from the Media Package made available by IFAB in conjunction with their 132nd Annual Business Meeting this week:
What is the qualification process for VAR replay operators?
Like the VARs, replay operators (ROs) play a crucial role in ensuring a functioning system. For the avoidance of doubt, the operator is the individual that is in direct communication with the main VAR during a match. As such, minimum requirements in terms of training of operators will be required in order for them to be eligible to operate a VAR system for a competitive match.
Operators may be employees of a technology provider, direct employees of a national association, competition, league or independent individuals that meet the criteria.
Who is eligible to work as a VAR and an AVAR?
VARs must be (former or current) top level referees; former referees who are used as VARs must still be involved in top level refereeing. Individual competitions may have further requirements.
Assistant VARs (AVARs) must also be qualified match officials; they can be a former or current referee or assistant referee.