Rules and regulations of football: is the video referee (VAR) a good idea?


Rules and regulations of football video referee

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We debate the pros and cons of using technology, replays and a video assistant referee (VAR) to apply the rules and regulations of football (soccer). Find out more about the evolution of the Laws of the Game and some of the historical referee mistakes and controversies in football. Join our debate and poll!


Video referee technology history

During the 2018 Russia World Cup the Video Assistant Referees system (VAR) attracted plenty of attention and faced its major test so far. Russia World Cup has delivered more penalties than any other World Cup in history (up 174%), many of them thanks to the video technology assistance. Arguably VAR has made some moments also interesting and nerve-wrecking for football fans. In many games we waited had to waits a few minutes for the VAR committee to validate a controversial decisions in key moment of a match. Those decisions made a great difference. 

The utilisiation of this technology  in football has been controversial since the very beginning. For instance, during the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup, one of the first times that VAR was used in an official international tournament, there were some noticeable controversies during the games associated to this new technology. Video review was used for a penalty decision in the game between South American Champion, Atletico Nacional and Japan's Kashima Antlers. Real Madrid players also complained that it took a few minutes for the referee to validate a Cristiano Ronaldo's goal in the other semi-final against America de Mexico.

Many sports have already embraced the use of video technology and instant replays to avoid referee mistakes. American and Canadian Football leagues (NFL and CFL), Ice Hockey (NHL), Baseball (MLB), Baskeball (NBA), Tennis,  Rugby, Cricket and Motor sports all use video replays to inform difficult decisions that have to be made by the referees. So why hasn't football/soccer not adopted video referee technology yet?

In fact, ​football is slowly following that same path. The use of video technology is not completely new to this sport. In the 2014 World Cup goal-line technology was successfully used in official games. Today this technology is used in a few major European competitions such as Serie A, Ligue 1, Bundesliga, and English Premier League. FIFA lists 88 stadiums which use Goal Control 4D or Hawk-Eye technology.

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) which determines the rules and regulations of football recently released a statatement offering "in principle" support to trials of video replays and technological assistance for referees in the coming seasons. The new president of FIFA, the Swiss Gianni Infantino, who participated in the meeting where the decision was made, said that "we cannot close our eyes to the future, to technology". This institutional support can open the possibility to a historical change. Even those who opposed the use of video referees and technology accepted a series of formal testing were conducted during the 2016/2017 and 2017/2018 seasons.

A trial in the Netherlands demonstrated that video replays could help reduce the number of referee mistakes and the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) petitioned FIFA and IFAB to seriously study the issue. In addition to the testing of the Video Assitant Referee in the 2016 FIFA Club Word Cup, a series of competitions worldwide participated in pioneer "offline" and "live" experiments:

  • Australia: Hyunday A-League
  • Brazil: several competitions run by the CBF
  • Germany: Bundesliga (DFB and DFL)
  • Netherlands: several competitions organized by the KNVB
  • Portugal: Liga NOS, Portuguese Cup and Super Cup
  • US: Major League Soccer
  • Italy: Serie A

​How do VAR works in football?

  1. If the referee observes and an incident but it is not sure about the decision he informs the Video Assistant Referee to review the incident. The VAR may also recommend the referee to investigate an incident
  2. The video footage is reviewed by the VAR who provide advise to the referee via headset
  3. The referee may either accept the suggestion from the video assistant referee or go to the side of the field to review by himself the footage and make a final decision

Video referee pros and cons

The use of video referees has been a long debated issue among football authorities. Technological assistance has a series of pros and cons:


  • Fairness: Potential to reduce grave mistakes by referees which could have serious consequences for one of the teams.
  • Extra time for decisions: Referees sometimes have only a split second to decide. The introduction of new rules concerning replays would allow them to better assess the situation.
  • Perspective: sometimes referees don't have the right angle to see properly the event they need to judge. Video cameras could provide additional perspectives on the action.
  • End of theatricals and aggression: Players will think it twice before trying to deceive the referee or intentionally harming another player.
  • It works in other sports such as rugby, American football, tennis, hockey and athletics. Why not apply it to football?
  • VAR has added to the game moments of great tension, when all players and fans waited a few minutes for a decision with great consequences in the game. It could be argued that it has included a new element of excitement.


  • Fluidity of the game: video replays could lengthen the game and interrupt its natural rythm and dynamics.
  • Difficult to decide on which occasions instant replay should be used or not. Players and fans may want to challenge every decisions against their interests.
  • Frustration: Will retroactive appeals have validity or only those when the referee has stopped the game to consult the video and assistants about a particular controversial action? Fans may feel even angrier than before when referees make mistakes and decide not to use the instant replay.
  • Football is a human game and mistakes are natural. Video technology may kill great part of the charm and spontaneity of the game.
  • Costly: this is an expensive technology so it would not be possible to implement it in all stadiums and competitions.

Do you think the advantages of introducing video referees outweigh its costs? Would football fans easily adjust to these new regulations? But before joining the debate, see below a bit more about the history of the rules and regulations of football.

Watch this video with a debate on the utilisation of VAR in football:

History of the rules and regulations of football

The first laws of football were established during a historical meeting at the Freemasons' Tavern in London, in 1863, which set the foundations of the Football Association. Fourteen basic rules and regulations were agreed which for the most part have remained relatively unchanged for the following 150 years. For instance the offside rule was part of the original regulations of football. Originally any attacking player ahead of the ball would be offside. It was meant to avoid the previously widespread tactic of accummulating as many as 8 forwards. In the late 1860s the rule was changed so that the attacker would be in offside if he was positioned ahead of the third-last defender. This way passing the ball to attackers became a potential strategy. 

Initially two umpires were used in the game (one per team). The referee was the person (staying on the touchline) these two unpires "referred to" when they could not agree on decisions concerning the events of the game. 

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) was created in 1886 to end some of the ongoing disputes concerning the rules of the game among British clubs. Initially the IFAB was composed of two representatives from each of the British football associations. FIFA was founded in Paris in 1904 by seven countries: Belgium, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. FIFA joined IFAB in 1913.

New rules and regulations have introduced gradually throughout the history of football:

  • Forward passes permitted (1866)
  • Goal-kicks (1869)
  • Specific position for goalkeeper (1871)
  • Corner-kicks (1872)
  • Use of whistle by referees (1878)
  • Penalty-kick (1891)
  • Single referee and two linesmen to assist the referee (1891)
  • Goal net (1891)
  • Cross bar (previously tape) (1891)
  • Centre spot for kick-off (1891)
  • Penalty spot (1902)
  • Goal area (1902)
  • Goalkeepers disallowed from handling the ball outside the penalty area (1912)
  • Offsides from throws-ins banned (1920)
  • Third-last defender offside rule replaced by second-last defender rule (1925)
  • Introduction of substitutes (1958)
  • Introduction of red and yellow cards (1970)
  • Back-pass rule to goal-keeper disallowed (1992)
  • Goal-line technology permitted (although not required) (2012)

Today the Laws of the Game consist of seventeen different rules: The Field of Play, The Ball, The Number of Players, The Players' Equipment, The Referee, The Assistant Referee, The Duration of the Match, The Start and Restart of Play, Ball in and out of Play, The Method of Scoring, Offside, Fouls and Misconduct, Free Kicks, The Penalty Kick, The Throw-in, The Goal Kick, and The Corner Kick.

Worst referee mistakes and controversial decisions

This is a list of the most infamous referee mistakes and football controversies in the history of the sport: 

  • England won the 1966 World Cup final against West Germany with a goal that did not cross the goal line.
  • Harold Schumacher's unpunished foul against Pattrick Battiston in the West Germany vs France semi-finals of the 1982 World Cup.
  • Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" goal in 1986 World Cup during the Argentina vs England match.
  • South Korea reached the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup that they were hosting following a series of serious referee mistakes in their games against Spain and Italy.
  • Thierry Henry's handball in the 2010 World Cup qualifying stage during the decisive Ireland vs France game.
  • England saw Frank Lampard's clear goal disallowed in a 2010 Wold Cup match against Germany.
  • In 2013, Bayer Leverkusen won a game thanks to a ghost goal against Hoffenheim which went through a hole in the side-netting.
  • Schalke beat Basel in the 2013/2014 Champions League after scoring a goal with four players clearly offside.


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