At 9:30 p.m. this Thursday, when the ball starts to roll through the Elephant Cemetery, in the match between Colón and Aldosivi a new era will be born for Argentine football: The VAR (Video Assistant Referee) will be used for the first time in a local competition. The novelty, however, will be about 500 kilometers from Santa Fe. That will be the distance between referee Nicolás Lamolina and Mauro Vigliano, who will be at the AFA site in Ezeiza, in a cabin specially designed for the landing of technology in Argentine soccer. Lamolina and Vigliano, both sons of two historic Argentine soccer referees, will be joined by a fiber optic cable that will make the information travel from the Brigadier López stadium to the AFA.
Vigliano will occupy one of the seven VOR (Video Operations Room) booths located in a modern building built especially on the Julio H. Grondona property. Last February, the building was visited by Pierliuigi Collina, president of the FIFA Referees Committee, who described it as a “pharaonic work”. In addition to the booths, the National Arbitration Directorate, headed by Federico Beligoy, will work there. “We did a very responsible job, with a lot of training. We certified 50 referees, a very important number for the region. A building was built that Gianni Infantino himself visited and described as one of the best in the world”, said Beligoy in the training talk that AFA held especially for journalists.
To enter each of the seven booths that work in that building, you have to place a password that changes depending on the match and that can only be entered by four authorized people: the VAR referee, the VAR assistant, the video operator and the quality manager. . They should arrive about two hours before the start of the game. Ten screens will show you what happens in the match.
The video operator only receives orders from the VAR referee about which play to review, with which camera and at what speed. In the VAR referee’s position there are two monitors, one that shows the raw image and another below in which four different cameras are seen with a three-second delay to instantly clear up doubts and give notice if a review is necessary. The VAR assistant has two other screens in front of him, one with the raw live image and the other with the official transmission, in which he watches replays of a play that the field referee and also the VAR could have missed. When the VAR focuses on replays of a questionable play, the assistant must follow the scene live and give the alert if there is any action that requires review. The quality manager is the one who controls the proper use of the tool and also acts as a link between the booth and the official transmission, to notify the viewer of what is being reviewed in the play.
“Minimum interference and maximum benefit”. That is the philosophy of the tool that will be launched from this eighth date of the League Cup in Argentine soccer. Far from ending the controversies, in these five years of incursion that technology has been leading in arbitration, it has changed the paradigm of global football. Although it has been used in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, in two editions of the Copa América, in the qualifiers and in five editions of the Copa Libertadores, it is still a novelty that Argentine soccer fans will have to adapt to, especially in each stadium.
It is worth reviewing the basics of VAR. The tool is only used to review goals, possible penalties, red cards or in cases of mistaken identity. From the cabin only notice is given of a situation to review; the decisions are always made by the field referee. The level of intervention is only for clear, obvious and decisive situations. The VOR receives the images from the cameras of the official transmission: any other footage is not taken into account. The number of cameras used is at the discretion of the company in charge of broadcasting that match: the floor is ten (eight on the field, plus two that are in the goal nets), although in some more important matches it can There are up to 24 cameras that show the game from different angles. In cases of a possible or doubtful second yellow that results in the expulsion of a player, the VAR is not enabled to act. For doubtful offside plays, the linesman may delay raising the flag and say “delay” over the intercom, so that the position of the striker can be checked in the booth. The actions of the goals deserve review only if the controversy occurred when the play was already in the same phase of attack that later ended in a goal.
“You have to be patient, this is just beginning. With the development of the dates, the referees are going to adjust the times, they are going to shorten each of the windows. There is no time limit to make a decision, the important thing is to reach the right decision”, explains former line judge Sergio Viola, another of those who carried out the training, who assures that the cockpit is more tiring than the field. Every time the referee goes to the VAR, a timer is started and the duration of that review must be added.. On average, it is estimated that each intervention lasts between two or three minutes. “In the rehearsal that we did with the Sub 17 a few weeks ago, they took six minutes in two revisions, from which they derived a penalty and an expulsion. Don’t you think it’s worth waiting six minutes for two such decisive actions?” asks Viola rhetorically.
Everything that happens in the VOR cabin will be recorded by a camera, although at the moment these images and audios will not be published, something that Conmebol does, for example. “A communication plan is planned in which audio and video will be shown to clarify situations and educate people, but we still don’t want to implement it because we think it’s important that the referees first gain confidence in this novelty,” Belligoy explained. One of the most worrying points is the referees’ treatment of the players: in addition to “reporting” the game so that their colleagues in the booth understand and support their rulings, the judges must speak considerately to the players.
The landing of VAR in Argentine football was first in January 2019. From then on, more than 2,800 kilometers of fiber optics were cabled to reach each field, more than 300 drills were carried out (164 online matches, 150 offline), there were constant training and 26 Argentine soccer stadiums were certified by FIFA (the recently promoted Tigre and Barracas Central are missing). More than three years passed and a pandemic in between. The truth will begin tonight, in Santa Fe, and it will be carried out by Lamolina and Vigliano, just two iconic surnames for Argentine arbitration.