Scottish football is a step closer to introducing Video Assistant Referees (VAR) after former referee Howard Webb held a meeting with club representatives to brief them on how to implement a system, with the SPFL planning to put the plans to a vote.
Webb, who had over 20 years experience as a referee and took charge of the 2014 World Cup final, helped Major League Soccer become the first top level league to introduce VAR and is an expert in its introduction and implementation.
He was invited by the Scottish FA and SPFL to make a presentation as clubs consider bringing VAR ot the Premiership and the later stages of cup competitions. Following the presentation, SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster said a formal proposal would be put to the vote after club representatives were “overwhelmingly positive” about the plans.
Webb stressed the advantages the technology can bring to the game and is hopeful that Scotland will join the growing number of professional leagues now using it to assist the on-pitch referee.
“I think it’s going to enhance the game and make the league better,” he said. “Also, it makes the officials better at what they do and opens up opportunities from Scotland on the global stage.
“I think it’s a positive step, one that would bring lots and lots of benefits.
“It’s ultimately a decision for those in the SPFL and from what I saw today there’s a lot of positivity for this project and hopefully we’ll get it over the line.”
Since the introduction of the system, there has been debate in Scotland about the benefits but also about the possibly prohibitive costs of bringing in the system, which involves staffing with extra officials, as well as increasing the number of cameras at most games.
The Scottish FA has said that it would take on the cost of training officials, while the logistical side would be paid for by Premiership clubs. Webb stressed that VAR wasn’t a single system but something that could be adapted and modified to suit Scottish football, as long as it met the basic standards laid down by FIFA.
The experienced official said that in his mind, Scottish football would get value for money if it gave plans the green light.
“To implement VAR in any competition does require some initial investment,” Webb said. “There’s a cost/benefit ratio that the clubs have to decide on.
“The sense I got in the meeting is that it was a positive meeting and there was generally good support for implementation of VAR and therefore for that required investment to make it happen.
“It’s clear the league are looking forward and to grow, develop and progress. With that comes development of the officiating standards and that’s well supported by the SFA.
“They accept that there’s a cost involved but I think it’s a cost that’s well spent and is certainly value for money in my experience.”
Webb added that his impression from the meeting was that the Scottish authorities were looking on the idea with a positive frame of mind and hadn’t jumped to any judgement.
“The process I’ve been part of so far makes it clear that there’s a lot of thought and consultation gone into this,” he said. “Nobody has rushed into anything and it’s been a well-considered move.
“The information laid out today and in a previous meeting that I attended laid out what the process would be, how it would work and what needs to happen between now and the implementation, in terms of the training. There are some good quality people at the SFA involved in the training and development of refereeing, who will absolutely make sure that when this goes live, the officials are as trained as they need to be to make sure that this is the positive I know it can be.
“I’m looking forward to seeing it hopefully come to life in the SPFL. I’m really positive it can be a net positive for the competition.”
Hampden chiefs thanked Webb for his advice and said that they were working to take the process forward.
Ian Maxwell, Scottish FA chief executive said: “The meeting was really productive and Howard’s presentation was well-received: clubs were really engaged as he outlined the journey VAR had been on not just in the United States but in general.
“The Scottish FA remains fully supportive of its implementation for the benefit of the image and status of our domestic game, but also to provide support to our match officials on the domestic, European and international stages.”
Neil Doncaster, Chief Executive of the SPFL, said: “We were keen to hear the views of cinch Premiership clubs, who were overwhelmingly positive about the benefits of introducing VAR in Scottish football.
“We will now continue that dialogue and working up the detail of a formal proposal, with a view to putting forward a resolution that will enable VAR to be introduced as soon as is practicably possible in the cinch Premiership. This will not be an overnight process, bearing in mind the lengthy training and set-up that will be required. Any such proposal would ensure that none of the costs of implementing VAR in the cinch Premiership would be borne by other SPFL clubs.”