World Cup and VAR: Why FIFA referees are making TV box signal with their hands during Russia 2018 games

Soccer fans are seeing something new at this edition of the World Cup in Russia. It's an official signal in which the referee mimes a square, before running off to a specific location on the sideline. So why have fans been seeing a motion that looks like this in-game, and why is play stopping because of it?

Yes, he looks a bit like he's conducting an orchestra, but that's not what's going here. The answer is a new feature that FIFA is implementing at the World Cup this year: Video Assistant Referees, or VAR. You can learn more about VAR here, but the abridged version is that VAR will monitor the pitch from a centralized location in Moscow.

When officials make the signal above, they're stopping play in order to review a previous play. This is generally because a VAR said something to the official on the pitch, indicating that a play that happened earlier needs to be looked at. Reviewable plays include goals, penalties, direct red cards and mistaken identity. If you see that signal, one of those plays occurred recently.

Once that signal goes up, officials go to the referee review area and talk to these guys:

Here's a look at an official making the call in a game situation, and what it looks like on the pitch:

After the official throws up that signal, he goes to the referee review area (RRA) to look at the call and talk to the VAR. The effect this will have on FIFA's pace is, of course, TBD. However, once the official makes that signal and play stops, it's important to understand why. This is VAR's maiden voyage at the World Cup, so it's impossible to know the full effects. It may result in a bit more stoppage time, but FIFA wants to ensure it's getting the big calls right.

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