Shortly before the season starts authorities have unveiled reforms to Germany’s video assistant referee system. They include efforts to make decisions more transparent and improve the VAR’s ability to judge offsides.
Lutz Michael Fröhlich, the head of referees at Germany’s football association (DFB), was candid in acknowledging how the Bundesliga struggled to implement Video Assistant Referees (VAR) last season.
“There were difficulties initially during the first half. Not everything was totally optimal,” Fröhlich told a press conference at DFB headquarters in Frankfurt on Friday. “It was, thank god, put to better use in the second half.”
The figures that the DFB and the DFL, the organization in charge of Germany’s top two divisions, presented on Friday seemed to prove his point. After 50 VAR interventions in the first half of last season, video referees were only involved in 32 decisions in the second half.
The decisions were also made more quickly, dropping from a 61-second average in the first part of the season to a 53-second average in the second — both lower than the 80 seconds it took on average for referees at the World Cup in Russia.
“Referees began making decisions on the field and did not rely on VAR,” Fröhlich said. “They operated under the motto: the referee is responsible if the VAR gets used.”
Nonetheless, Bundesliga fans sustained their disdain for VAR from the first matchday to the last. Spectators in the stadium held up signs protesting the system and German newspapers pasted incorrect VAR decisions on their back pages.
After dealing with months of criticism, the DFB and DFL announced a series of reforms aimed to help improve VAR decisions and make the whole process more transparent on Friday.
Keeping fans in the loop
The fans who were perhaps the most outraged by the growing pains of VAR were the ones in the stadium. Most of them were left to their own devices to figure out what the referees were up to during VAR decisions.
On Friday, Ansgar Schwenken, the DFL’s Director of Football Business and Fans, laid out a new set of stadium graphics to help shed light on VAR decisions for stadium spectators. Each graphic will show the referee’s decision on the field, what the VAR is reviewing and what the final decision on the field is.
There are four graphic templates corresponding to the four different reviewable situations: goals, penalty decisions, card changes and mistaken identity.
However, due to technological constraints, the graphic will appear only after a decision is reviewed. That means stadium visitors could still be left in the dark while the decision is made, but at least they will find out what exactly the VAR reviewed.
DFL broadcasts will also adopt a three-perspective viewing experience for television viewers similar to the way FIFA showed VAR decisions during the World Cup — one showing replays of the incident, one showing the referee and one showing the video assistant center in Cologne. VARs will also have tablets to quickly communicate decisions to broadcasters and commentators.
Schwenken said the measures are designed to provide fans, both in the stadium at home, with “the highest possible transparency.”
Fröhlich admitted that German referees were challenged with very close offside decisions.
“In the second half of the season, we had several close offside situations that we didn’t have in the first half and, if you look back, didn’t have in the past,” he said. “We had 40 such situations in the second half of the season. That is extreme.”
The DFL has therefore developed a three-dimensional calibrated line that compliments the offside line to help the VAR. The calibrated line shows where the striker is in relation to the offside line, which is designed to revolve tricky offside decisions.
If offside is checked by the VAR, the graphic with the offside line will be available for broadcasters to use on television.
The DFB and DFL have stopped short in many areas that would make VAR decisions more accessible to fans, with Schwenke insisting that the two organizations are taking a “walk before run” approach.
They elected to stay with a simple in-stadium graphic to keep the process quick and simple. It also decided against showing VAR replays on the big screens in the stadium, a feature at this past World Cup in Russia, for similar reasons.
Both organizations also recognize that it is still humans making the call, and the decisions will still be open for debate.
“We know that people work as VAR and that there isn’t 100 percent perfection,” Fröhlich said. “We can therefore decidedly say that we want to improve when it comes to the quality of making decisions, avoid the issues from the first half [of last season] and improve upon the second half.”