VAR: Bundesliga’s video assist becomes the new normal

The introduction of Video-Assist in the German Bundesliga has become the new normal. Since the Bundesliga season 2017/18 kicked off, the Video-Assist has been tested in an online mode. The new system makes it possible to check complicated situations more carefully. In any case, the referee on pitch remains the decision-maker.

The signals of all 19 — or for top games even 21 — cameras in the stadium are transmitted live to the Video-Assist-Center (VAC) in Cologne, where the video assistant referees (VARs) are physically located. The VAC is housed within the Cologne Broadcasting Center (CBC), which hosts DFL’s central production facilities.

At the CBC, the live footage from all Bundesliga matches is enriched with graphics, commentary and highlight editing for the international licensees. Since 2015, the DFL has used a fibre network to deliver the signals from all Bundesliga stadiums to the CBC. For this reason, the organisation decided that the central facilities of the video assistant referees should also be based in this location.

The fibre network, which has redundant 10 Gbit/s connections to every stadium, provides the hardware for Video-Assist with a dedicated bandwidth, used by the service provider Hawk-Eye to transmit the signals.

Provided with 19 or 21 camera signals in the stadium by Bundesliga’s host broadcaster SPORTCAST via classic copper cable, Hawk-Eye encodes the signal in its own OB van and provides all of the camera images to the VARs. At every Bundesliga match there is a video assistant referee who has an assistant by his side for research (both are trained Bundesliga referees), as well as two replay operators who are in charge of operating the system. There is no pre-selection process. All cameras signals are shown on their monitors.

Referee retains the power of ultimate decision

Thanks to the proprietary software from Hawk-Eye, the 21 camera signals are transmitted with dynamic bandwidth so that the images that are in the focus of the VARs are transmitted with a higher bandwidth while the signals that are giving an overview of the match are transmitted with lower bandwidth. The VAR checks the different cameras and chooses the camera image that gives the best insight into a situation and it is then streamed in high quality.

The same principle is used for replay. If the VAR is required to take a time-displaced look at the situation, he can request the material in high quality. This gives the VAR only the angles and camera images in high quality that matter in this moment — which is more efficient in terms of bandwidth.

Initiated by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the requirements for the project include that the referee on the field needs to have the possibility to check a critical situation once more. For this reason there is now a monitor at the side of the pitch where the referee can take another look at an unclear situation. He retains the power of ultimate decision. Even if the VAR informs him that a decision on a penalty kick was not right, he can still stick to his decision.

The audio communication between the referee on the pitch and his colleagues is done wirelessly. In addition to that a new intercom system has been created that connects the wireless referee communication with the intercom system in the Video-Assist-Center at CBC.

The VAR can always listen to the communication on the pitch. If he needs to communicate with the referee he can interfere via push-to-talk and tell the referee to stop the match because he has an objection. The VAR himself is on camera if he interjects, so that the TV viewers understand what is going on.

When the VAR calls, the referee puts one hand up to his ear and stretches his other arm as the gesture that the match is being stopped. The interaction between the referee and the video assist is shown via split screen.

For this purpose, two cameras have been installed in the Video-Assist-Center. The two camera signals from the VAC are sent in full HD quality via the fibre network to the OB van in the stadium where the signal is scaled and embedded in the feed for play out.

The technical concept for this season is working out well. In March 2018, the IFAB and FIFA will decide if the Video-Assist project will be established worldwide and consequently become a common standard in the Bundesliga.

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