VAR in Scotland: Why this past Scottish Premiership weekend showed there's little point in video assistant referees

This coming Friday, Scottish Premiership clubs will meet to discuss the possibility of introducing Video Assistant Referees (VAR) into the top flight and latter rounds of cup competitions.
Hibs defender Ryan Porteous was sent off against Rangers. Picture: SNSHibs defender Ryan Porteous was sent off against Rangers. Picture: SNS
Hibs defender Ryan Porteous was sent off against Rangers. Picture: SNS

Fittingly, this past weekend served up an excellent example of why the technology will have minimal effect in eradicating controversy and the tedious debates around officiating in this country.

Hibs were leading 1-0 at Ibrox when Ryan Porteous was sent packing for a lunge on Joe Aribo, which aided Rangers in completing a turnaround, eventually winning the match 2-1 and going back to the top of the table.

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The incident was much discussed in the aftermath and the spectrum of opinion couldn’t have been any wider. Some said it wasn’t even a foul. Others, like former Hearts boss Craig Levein, said it was the type of tackle that would soon see players hauled up in court.

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This is why VAR and football do not go together. Though there are laws of the game which are black and white – balls crossing the line, offsides etc – the majority are based upon subjectivity. Referees are given guidance as to what constitutes a red card tackle, but if you put four officials into a room together and show them an incident, there’s every chance two will go one way and two will go the other.

VAR would have done nothing to settle the debate around the Porteous challenge. From a couple of angles it doesn’t even look like a foul. From a couple of others it’s a potential leg-breaker. In the end, the technology wouldn’t have impacted this decision whatsoever. Once Nick Walsh had made his call, there wasn’t enough to suggest a “clear and obvious” error had been made by the whistler.

There will be clear and obvious errors for which the system does come in handy, but these instances aren’t as common as most fans would have you believe, and is it worth what we’re giving up in return?

The single greatest aspect of sports, a goal scored in football – so rare, so immediate, so significant, so final – is diluted while our conscious tells us that, despite the referee pointing to the centre circle and the linesman sprinting back to the halfway, it might not be allowed to stand once the dust has settled. Is it worth diminishing such elation when we’re still going to have contentious decisions that are endlessly debated?

The moments checked by VAR leave the paying punter in a state of purgatory, unsure what is going on or why, while the armchair fan contributing nothing to the spectacle or atmosphere are an advantageous position, which is a direction the sport is continually trending toward and the kind of attitude we could really do without in a football country where a sense community remains fundamental to fulfilment.

This is all without going into the logistical challenges. VAR isn’t cheap to implement. Typically at most cinch Premiership grounds there are two or three cameras following the action. To introduce VAR, that number would have to be doubled, with it costing tens of thousands of pounds per camera. The recent estimates say £90,000 per team.

Take that money and put it into helping to create a centralised strategy to help building the SPFL brand and growing the quality of the league, instead of chasing the myth of a perfectly refereed football match.

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