VAR in Scotland: Why the Tartan Army should be among the biggest advocates ahead of Scottish exploratory meeting

Imagine a VAR-free football world. In that alternative universe it is almost certain that, right now, Scotland’s players would be moping about their team hotel turning over in their heads the dire implications of sitting fourth in Group F, as their manager Steve Clarke found himself on the defensive through preparing his squad essentially for a World Cup qualifier dead-rubber against Israel at Hampden on Saturday.

VIENNA, AUSTRIA - SEPTEMBER 07: Referee Georgi Kabakov consults the VAR monitor during the FIFA World cup Qualifer between Austria and Scotland at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion, on September 07, 2021, in Vienna, Austria. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

VAR ensured Clarke’s men are in the box seat to reach the play-offs for next year’s Qatar finals. Without the technology, the clear penalty infringement committed by Martin Hinteregger in yanking Che Adams to the ground as the pair tussled in the box a half hour into the Vienna encounter missed in real time by referee Georgi Kabakov, would have stayed missed. Instead, VAR requested that the official review the incident on a pitch-side monitor. He realised his error, awarded a penalty converted by Lyndon Dykes, and gave Scotland something to hold on to. If they hadn’t secured that lead then it truly is a stretch to believe they wouldn’t have eventually succumbed to defeat.

There are countless VAR success stories.

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These, though, aren’t noteworthy. Technology doing its job never is, while the opposite is always true. And, ahead of Scottish top flight clubs meeting with the SFA and SPFL to discuss the introduction of a form of VAR within two years, it is this one-eyed approach that would appear to be fuelling the footballing King Canutes in our country. Bizarrely, this band appear willing to make a case for it being a bad thing. They point out its undoubtedly flaws and highlight cases where the process hasn’t concluded with the correct decisions being made. These people patently don’t follow the logic of French Enlightenment writer and philosopher Voltaire. To paraphrase one of his famous lines, germane to the VAR scenario even if almost 300-years-old, the desire for perfection should not be the enemy of good.

Referee Georgi Kabakov consults the VAR monitor during the FIFA World cup Qualifer between Austria and Scotland at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion, on September 07, 2021, in Vienna, Austria. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

VAR isn’t perfect. It simply cannot be in a game where rulings on so many potential offences – certain handball incidents and trangressive tackles – are subjective. No matter how many times you replay the footage of them.

Yet, the use of VAR overwhelmingly leads to good outcomes. The majority of times it is deployed it corrects wrong calls that officials – through only being human and only seeing incidents once with the naked eye – inevitably will make. It is supposed to have caused problems in England. Yet analysis has detailed that of the 128 VAR incidents in the English Premier League, only 15 were considered to be genuinely dodgy.

The fact the Scottish refereeing community is fully behind our country catching up with the 49 leagues that already have it in use makes it perplexing why anyone else would object to more games being settled through the correct decisions being arrived at. It seems frankly obtuse, and no blether about the spectacle being ruined for fans’ over the potential for losing the joy of in-the-moment goal celebrations. More than those, more than anything, fans don’t want their teams to be on the receiving end of really poor calls from officials. And even VAR’s biggest critics wouldn’t dispute it has been the driver of huge progress for the game on that score. Just ask the Tartan Army.

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