VAR in Scotland: key questions answered as club reunion looms

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The VAR has been used on Scottish pitches for UEFA competitions but never for national football

What do Kosovo, Morocco and Thailand have in common? Each of their top football leagues have Video Assistant Referees (VARs), unlike Scotland.

This Friday, the Scottish FA and SPFL will host a video conference with Scottish Premiership clubs to discuss the introduction of technology for all top-level games and the final rounds of National Cup competitions.

But why has it taken so long to get here? How would that work? Who would pay for it? And will the clubs be in favor?

Wait… what is VAR?

If this section applies to you, it would be safe to assume that you are not the biggest football fan or that you have lived under a rock for the past three years.

With the way the world has been lately, no one would blame you if you fell into the latter category, but the introduction of VAR into football in 2018 was the biggest change in the game of modern times.

The intention is to give officials more support for decisions on the pitch, as an additional assistant referee is able to review “clear and obvious errors” via the video replay.

These revisions can only take place in the event of a goal, a penalty decision, a red card incident or a mistaken identity. Yes, that means Italy’s 2007 Hampden goal would still stand – pre-goal free kick decisions are not reviewed.

Why don’t we have it in Scotland?

While the VAR has been introduced in the game’s top leagues and competitions around the world, it is also used in divisions with less resources – like the aforementioned top Kosovar, Moroccan and Thai flights.

You can add Ukraine, Slovakia and Israel to this list – three divisions below Scotland in the UEFA coefficient rankings – so why doesn’t the Premiership have the technology yet?

In March of last year, the Director General of the SPFL, Neil Doncaster said The Price of Football podcastexternal link he was concerned that VAR could damage the league’s brand and raised concerns about the financial implications.

“Our brand is built on the passion, drama and excitement in the stadium,” Doncaster said. “If you find yourself in a situation where people don’t think they can celebrate a goal properly in case it gets scored, you are damaging what Scottish football is.

“If he can’t run with all the millions in the big five leagues then you should be very careful before there is an implementation in Scotland.”

So what has changed?

The two main factors appear to be lower costs and the fact that there has been a “significant break-in period” elsewhere.

The Euro 2020 final – in which Hampden hosted four matches – highlighted how technology can be used more transparently, and adaptations to its implementation south of the border have stifled much criticism.

“VAR is here to stay and in a short period of time its implementation has progressed considerably,” Scottish FA Managing Director Ian Maxwell said last week.

“His installation and maintenance costs have come down. We are now at the point where we need to discuss and ideally agree on his introduction into Scottish football.”

Doncaster added that now is “the right time to look again at the benefits” of VAR.

How will it be implemented?

One thing is for sure, more cameras will be needed, as non-televised Scottish Premiership games currently only use four.

In the Kosovo Premier League – a league with 10 teams and five fixtures a week – there are six cameras set up at each stadium, while a van also goes to every match.

So not only will Scottish grounds require additional cameras, but VAR hubs and pitchside monitors will need to be arranged.

Premiership referees will also need to undergo training. At present, only three Scottish officials can boast a brilliant certificate of completion, so their colleagues can expect a rigorous course if the technology is introduced.

Visar Kastari, FIFA referee and responsible for VAR education in Kosovo, told BBC Scotland officials in his country needed six months of “constant” training, but all implementation costs were covered by their football federation.

Kosovo VAR Center
For each high-level match in Kosovo, a VAR manager, an assistant VAR manager and a replay operator monitor from their hub

“Kosovo was very quick in implementing VAR,” he said. “But it has been a very tight schedule and very hard work.

“Even though the Fifa plan takes 18 to 24 months to complete the stages, we managed to finish everything in record time with a lot of effort and stubbornness.”

All of this preparation means that it is expected that if VAR enters the Scottish game, he will not be in the top flight until the 2023-24 campaign.

Will the clubs be supportive?

VAR still causes some division among fans, but the general sentiment within Premiership clubs is in favor of change.

Hearts chief executive Andrew McKinlay told Sportsound that Scottish football is in danger of becoming “backwater” without VAR, while Tynecastle boss Robbie Neilson said “it will move the league forward.”

Motherwell director Graham Alexander echoed these views, saying it is “100% worth doing” if the technology is “well managed.”

And while his Livingston counterpart, David Martindale, wondered if his club could afford it, he insisted he had to be introduced to “help the officials”.

Who will pay for it?

While there appears to be consistent support, there are questions about funding. The Scottish FA are ready to cover the training costs, but Premiership clubs are expected to shell out £ 1million.

This could amount to around £ 80,000 a year for each of the 12 teams, which is not far from the average annual salary of a player.

Additionally, with the technology expected to be implemented in the final rounds of cup competitions, it remains to be seen whether any payments will be required from lower league teams.


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