Date: 24th January 2023
Supporter opinion on the introduction of VAR to Scottish football
Who are we?
The Scottish Football Supporters Association (SFSA) is the national football supporter’s umbrella group representing fans of all Scottish clubs. It is the only independent fans’ body with representation at Football Supporters Europe (see www.fanseurope.org).
SFSA has 77,000 members across three categories: individual fans, fan groups and affiliates. It is well placed to support and deliver innovative programmes that can use the power of football to enhance the community.
The organisation is a volunteer-run, not for profit social enterprise and is a Community Interest Company registered in Scotland. See www.scottishfsa.org.
SFSA has knowledge and experience of the structure and organisation of fans’ groups across the UK and in Europe. We have consulted widely with many football clubs, supporters groups, the Scottish Government as well as across the political parties in Scotland on behalf of fans. We have working relationships with both the SFA and the SPFL where SFSA seeks to be a ‘critical friend’. The organisation believes that the success of football as our national game rests with the participation and the contribution of supporters, and that there is a need for them to have an independent collective influence within the game.
Background to the study
In October last year, Video Assisted Refereeing was introduced to the Scottish domestic game for the very first time. Due to the relatively late adoption of VAR by the Scottish FA, most supporters will have been familiar with the technology for some time. However, after four months of VAR in the Scottish Premiership, supporters now have a first hand experience.
On the face of things, VAR seems to be a controversial issue amongst Scottish football supporters, with many seeming to be unhappy with its implementation in the Scottish game. Therefore, the following questions are important to consider:
At the SFSA, we believe that for Scottish football to flourish, all stakeholders must be consulted in decision making. None more so than the supporters. We hope that this study can be a mechanism which enables positive and constructive dialog between supporters, clubs and governing bodies.
The survey was open to participate in for all Scottish football supporters, regardless of SFSA membership or division of their supported team. The sample size was 197, 87% of which supported a Premiership club.
Supporter enjoyment of VAR in Scottish football
Do supporters feel as though their club has benefited from the introduction of VAR?
The majority of supporters surveyed felt as though their team has not benefited from the introduction of VAR. It is important to bear in mind that it is not uncommon for us supporters to feel aggrieved after a match due to refereeing. Despite this, supporters clearly feel that wrong decisions are being made which are leaving teams feeling hard done by.
Supporter perceptions of VAR impact on enjoyment before and after introduction
Although not many supporters saw the introduction of VAR as something which would improve their enjoyment, almost half of respondents felt fairly neutral. Despite this, since the introduction of VAR, over three quarters of supporters stated that VAR has decreased their enjoyment of Scottish football matches.
This suggests that, in its current form, VAR is something which is damaging supporters experiences of the Scottish Premiership. Therefore, it is important that specific issues be identified so that steps can be made towards addressing these.
Supporter understanding of VAR
Do supporters believe that they fully understand VAR?
It is possible that a lack of understanding of VAR, could lead to supporter resistance to its introduction. However, a vast majority of supporters stated that they do fully understand VAR. Despite this, over a quarter of supporters were either don’t understand VAR or are unsure about it. This is a significant proportion, which would be engaged with regards to educating how VAR is implemented.
Do supporters understand the handball rule for penalties?
A large majority of supporters feel as though the handball rule for penalties is not easy to understand. Although this is an issue which isn’t directly related to VAR, the heightened spotlight brought into the game by VAR has no doubt exposed significant ambiguity with regards to this rule.
Refereeing alongside VAR
How do supporters feel that VAR has affected refereeing standards?
Supporters clearly believe that refereeing performances are worsened by the use of VAR. It is possible that this is due to VAR highlighting refereeing errors which would have previously gone unnoticed. Nevertheless, any decrease in supporter trust for referees is a negative thing for Scottish football and is something to be considered.
How do supporters feel about the offside rule under VAR?
Interestingly, a majority of supporters did not like VAR’s application to tight offside calls, which are impossible to make with the naked eye. It is possible that this issue could damage supporter enjoyment of matches. Some European leagues do use buffer zones with VAR offside calls, which could be a potential solution to this issue.
How do supporters feel about the length of time VAR takes to make decisions?
Given the responses above, the length of time taken by VAR to make some decisions, is clearly an issue which affects supporter’s enjoyment of matches. Supporters feel so strongly, that they would rather tolerate more incorrect decisions than tolerate the disruption to matches caused by VAR. This issue was always likely to occur early on after the introduction of VAR, however it is something which must be improved on.
What does this mean moving forward?
It is the SFSA’s position that the introduction of VAR was a necessity to prevent Scotland from falling behind other European nations who had already adopted VAR. However, we recognise that teething issues were always likely, and based on supporter opinion gathered in this study, we appear to be experiencing the negative consequences of these currently.
Issues such as rule ambiguity, tight offsides, and lengthy decision making time, have been identified in this study. The SFSA will now present these findings to the SFA in the hope that they can better inform policy aimed towards improving VAR.
Thank you to all the supporters who participated in the survey.
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