Scottish FA to consider VAR after criticism of referees

Scottish FA chief executive Ian Maxwell has revealed the game's governing bodies will consider introducing Video Assistant Referees (VAR) in the wake of scathing criticism of match officials.

Video Assistant Referees were used at the World Cup in the summer but it is an expensive system. Picture: Ian Kington/Getty
Video Assistant Referees were used at the World Cup in the summer but it is an expensive system. Picture: Ian Kington/Getty

A summit involving the Premiership clubs and the relevant refereeing groups is planned for January and discussions will centre on the feasibility of implementing the technology – which could cost £10,000 per match.

Referees have come under fire for a host of high-profile errors this season, with Hearts manager Craig Levein one of the most vocal critics, questioning the standard of refereeing following recent games against Rangers and St Johnstone.

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Maxwell will now liaise with Neil Doncaster, his counterpart at the Scottish Professional Football League, over the potential to offer officials video assistance during games.

The SFA chief said: “It feels like there is a lot of negativity around any refereeing decision that is maybe not as good as it should be, for whatever reason.

“I think there’s a view, certainly within this building, that we want to address that, want to stop that – and get everybody in the same room at the same time to talk through how we can understand issues, understand concerns, understand where each other is coming from.

“We discussed VAR at a board meeting on Thursday and agreed that, alongside the SPFL, Neil Doncaster and I would go and have a serious look at it.

“There is a bit of a myth out there that VAR is a great idea and we can do it for next season. We would trial it in the background at matches first, without announcing we were using it.

“It’s not as simple as sticking a TV at the side of the pitch. People need to be trained. We need to scope it out and there will be a financial impact. The cost comes out of the distribution pot, so clubs will end up paying for it themselves.”

Speaking earlier yesterday morning, Levein had called for a summit to discuss the refereeing crisis and the potential use of VAR.

The Tynecastle club feel they have been the victims of poor decisions by officials after a blatant offside decision went against Hearts in Sunday’s narrow defeat by Rangers, before Andrew Dallas awarded a hugely contentious penalty in St Johnstone’s favour in Wednesday’s 2-2 stalemate.

Levein also believes the wealthier clubs in the Premiership could contribute to the cost, citing a proposal in the Netherlands where Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord would donate 10 per cent of their Champions League income to smaller clubs in return for them ripping up their plastic pitches.

League leaders Kilmarnock and Aberdeen are among other clubs to have voiced concerns over the standard of refereeing and Levein believes a meeting of the game’s stakeholders is needed.

Levein, whose side will seek to end a seven-game winless run at home to Motherwell today, said: “I’ve spoken to two other Premier League managers and they are unhappy, saying: how is it that we are always the ones that suffer when something like this happens? We would like there to be talks about how we can make it better. Surely people can’t disagree with that.

“What happens is it flares up, the referees circle the wagons, wait for it to go away, it goes away… and then it flares up again.

“People say it’s just because we’ve had a few bad decisions go against us. Well, I’ve spoken to other managers. And they’re not happy. And something will happen soon. I don’t know what. But we need to talk about the situation, rather than burying our heads in the sand. It’s the only industry in the world, and this is 2018, that there is no accountability. The only industry in the world.

“In terms of the secrecy, because the rest of the world is changing it becomes an island that’s isolated.”

Referring to the proposal in the Netherlands regarding the use of plastic pitches, Levein insists he would be happy for Hearts to contribute.

Kilmarnock’s Steven Clarke has already called for the £370,000 each top-fight team picked up on the back of Celtic’s European efforts to be invested in goalline technology.

Levein added: “I think VAR would help. If you’re a referee, you get one shot at it. If you get it wrong, you get pilloried.

“I think it’s important, when the amount of scrutiny has increased, that the tools available to referees – tools that will help them get decisions right – should increase as well.

“I really do think that for the benefit of the game, something needs to be done and if it requires money I’ll ask if we would be prepared to contribute to that. The thing in Holland was really fascinating for me. The bigger clubs that were involved in Europe saw it as a good thing to help.

“If we were sitting with bundles of money in the bank, I would be asking [Hearts owner] Ann Budge. I’m sure that we would help in some way if we could. I’m a huge advocate of Scottish football being a good spectacle and being something that we are all proud of.”

Levein also believes referees should be allowed to explain their decision making to help calm flashpoints.

He added: “I think international rugby is brilliant, because you can actually hear the referee talking, you can hear what their thought process is. We’re not allowed to hear that in football. What’s the difference? Why do we keep this secret in football? When you see that, in rugby, it actually works.

“And I’ll tell you another thing, players and coaches get frustrated with not getting answers. Referees don’t speak to you. But you understand that human contact is really important, to be able to defuse situations.

“I remember, as a young manager here maybe in 2001, a game when Willie Young was still refereeing. I was jumping about on the touchline, waving my arms, shouting and bawling because some decisions were going against us. He walked over and said to me: ‘Listen. Have you never made a mistake?’ All of a sudden, the wind is right out of my sails. Because what do you say? And I actually ended up apologising to him.”