It’s official. Veteran English referee Howard Webb has been hired to join the Professional Referee’s Organization (PRO) as its Manager of Video Assistant Referee Operations.
News reports in late November identified Webb as the likely candidate to oversee implementation and evaluation of video-referee technology in North America. Webb, 45, retired as an English Premier League and FIFA referee after the 2014 World Cup. He refereed both the Champions League final and World Cup final in 2010 and during a 25-year career officiated in more than 600 competitive matches.
Last year, tests were conducted during MLS and USL games, and MLS commissioner Don Garber has declared MLS will use the video-referee system during the second half of the regular season. Under Webb’s supervision, PRO will conduct tests during preseason games and regular-season matches prior to the All-Star Game Aug. 2.
“Howard Webb will be a great asset to PRO in spearheading the VAR project,” said PRO General Manager Peter Walton. “His high-level officiating experience and work as a broadcaster will bring tremendous value as he guides our referees through various VAR testing and assessment exercises ahead of forthcoming VAR implementation.”
The system allows the referee to observe replays and make decisions on situations leading up to the scoring of a goal, awarding of a penalty kick, issuance of red and yellow cards, and mistaken identity. At each game a video assistant referee (VAR) will watch the game on TV monitors and communicate with the match officials on situations to be reviewed. The authority for making final decisions remains with the match referee.
Approximately 30 preseason games will feature tests, including matches at the IMG Suncoast Pro Classic, 2017 Desert Friendlies, FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup, Portland Timbers Preseason Tournament, and Carolina Challenge Cup. MLS and PRO have not said how many tests will be conducted at regular-season games prior to the All-Star Game, after which the system is to be implemented for live use.
Officials of the Bundesliga have said the league will introduced the VAR system in the 2017-18 season, which starts in August. (The league did not implement VAR when play resumed in late January following its winter break.) FIFA approved use of the system for the FIFA World Club Cup last December, and replays of a suspected offside as well as a foul regarding a penalty kick helped Japanese club Kashima beat Atletico Nacional of Colombia, 3-0, in the semifinals.
“I’m delighted to join the Professional Referee Organization for this new challenge and contribute to the implementation of what I view as a crucial development for the sport,” said Webb. “I have tremendous respect for the organization that Peter Walton has created and am excited to be on board for the continued development of this initiative.”