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VAR: 'Completely fair football will never exist'

Herbert Schalling
January 17, 2019

The Bundesliga implemented the use of video assistant referees in the 2017-18 season. The men in charge of the VARs in Germany's top flight spoke to DW about the problems posed by the use of the technology.

Deutschland Videobeweis in der Bundesliga
Image: Getty Images/AFP/C. Stache

DW: The criticism of the work of the video assistant referees has continued. Hardly a matchday went by in the first half of the Bundesliga season when it wasn't an issue. Why do you think this is?

Lutz Michael Fröhlich: Perhaps some fans had the expectation that the introduction of the VARs  would lead to a football being completely just, without any arguments. But this will never be the case. The aim from the start was to reduce the number of blatant mistakes so as to make the game more just. We have made good progress along this road. Even if things are by no means perfect.

When will VAR finally gain acceptance?

LMF: Internationally there is not the level of criticism there is in Germany. In Spain and the Netherlands, for example, you hear much more about the positive aspects in the public discourse, even though there are only images from eight cameras available in the stadiums. We have 21 cameras in at each match.

Many critics point out that they way it has been implemented in Germany lacks transparency. At the World Cup in Russia, the plays in question were shown on the video screens in the stadium. Why is this not the case in the Bundesliga ?

Jochen Drees: At the World Cup they had new stadiums with state-of-the-art technology. Not every Bundesliga stadium has the capability of showing these images and we don't want to show them in some stadiums and not in others. I can't say when there will be uniformity. We also want the referee to be able to explain his decision to the spectators in the stadium via his headset, as is the case in American football.     

DFB    Lutz Michael Froehlich
Lutz-Michael Fröhlich is head of elite referees at the DFBImage: picture-alliance/SvenSimon/F.Hoermann

Another point of contention is that in one game the VAR will intervene, while he won't in another. Why are there such discrepancies?

JD: You can't compare situations in different games. There are two reasons for the VAR to intervene: in the case of a blatant mistake and when the referee didn't notice something on the pitch because he couldn't see it. For example, if a referee with a clear view of the play rules that a foul is not enough to warrant a penalty, the VAR is not allowed to intervene, even if he himself thought it was a penalty. It is different in the case of a blatant mistake, like when a clear handball in the area is missed. Then the VAR must intervene and make the referee on the pitch aware of his mistake. He then has to review the play himself using the monitor on the sidelines. This is because the final decision always rests with the referee in the stadium... 

How does this arrangement work in concrete terms?

JD: On the one hand, the referee has the possibility to signal to the VAR that he wasn't able to see a particular play clearly. On the other, we train our VARs to be able to tell whether or not the referee had a clear view of the situation, before contacting him. We want to keep the frequency of the use of the VARs as low as possible. There were examples in the first half of the season when the use of the VAR was unnecessary.

How do you intend to get to grips with this?

JD: This can only be done through constant evaluation and training. After every matchday we discuss with the VARs what was good and what could be improved. Not only are the referees graded, there is also an evaluation system for the VARs.

Deutschland Fußball Bundesliga - Hamburger SV vs. FC Schalke 04
Jochen Drees was a Bundesliga referee for 12 seasonsImage: picture-alliance/CITYPRESS 24

One particular situation is a constant source of controversy, namely whether a handball was really a handball or not – whether it was deliberate, or not, for example.

LMF: Over the course of the season so far we have gotten a lot closer to a uniform interpretation of the rule, something that has met with the approval of the Bundesliga clubs. In essence it is an offense when the hand is in an unnatural position at the time of contact, like in the case of an outstretched arm. But we get the discussion – we need a clear definition at the international level. This is where the International Football Association Board (IFAB) comes in.

Lutz Michael Fröhlich, 61, was a Bundesliga referee for 14 years and also officiated numerous international and European matches. Today, he is the head of elite referees at the German Football Association (DFB).

Dr. Jochen Drees, 48 was a referee for 12 years. He has been head of the DFB's VAR unit since October 2018.  

The interview was conducted by Herbert Schalling.