VAR… What can be said.

Date: 11th November 2022

This week’s first blog brought to you by our resident writer Donald Stewart.

VAR … What can be said.

VAR has arrived in Scotland and let the debate rage.

I have to be honest and say I am neither a fan nor a detractor. I have little faith in anything pitched to improve the game that still relies in a guy behind a screen spending time looking over live action to find the answer to a conundrum. After all, Sportscene never really solved much, did it?

I like the idea that somehow, we can increase the fair nature of any sport by fair means and that people can get the decisions they merit. VAR promised it but has not always delivered.

There have been decisions, in fairness to it, which have managed to do just that. We have witnessed right and wrong decisions either backed by VAR or overturned, but it has not eliminated human error. In some cases, it has heightened it. Why? Because whilst it was supposed to eliminate it, it still depends upon the human touch.

The fanfare of VAR and the debate that has raged for decades has always been about the goal that was that was never given, the offside that was blatant that was not picked up and the stonewaller missed by the referee. Had it stayed for those purposes, it might never have been implemented but there was an honesty around the thing. Everyone could buy into the unfairness of all of those scenarios.

Then it was introduced to our neighbours, after being used in a variety of high profile competitions and the whole thing got testy.

Had it been used just for the purposes of checking the bleeding obvious, we would have felt that we had a solution to human error. But the people peddling it expanded into claiming it would do much more – and to be fair – it is capable of contributing hugely to the game. Ironically though, the optics have been fuzzy.

For me, the delay in VAR decisions adds to the game and does not detract from it. I will bow to the sport scientists who may claim that any stopping of activity can lead to muscular problems, but the wait is pure anticipation for me.

The issues arise in who is sitting where, doing what and communicating what to whom. In each game there is to be up to, I believe, four officials of the same level and grade as the four at the game: each Premiership game. Even if, for the whole of Saturday, there are only four of them hidden in Hampden watching four games and then when one of them spots a problem, they all confer, that means four top officials denied for the Championship games that weekend. That means that there is a knock on effect in League One and then League Two and on we go.

When all is said and done, is that fair?

Is that the best use of resources?

Now, the argument may well be that the most saleable product in our game is the top-flight. As we try and get our National Game alongside our National Teams better equipped for the 21st century and life back to making the grade in Europe and beyond, the argument holds sway. We can hardly argue if Andy Robertson or Kieran Tierney is a bi product of improving standards. But we can argue if they happen to be the only two. And only one of them came through one of the big two nurseries of talent in Glasgow.

Grassroots football is thriving despite the lack of investment in it. The VAR, for me, follows the same as the naming of the leagues. We follow trends and do not set them. We keep looking and searching

for the panacea from others and not from within ourselves. We want to be Spain and are upset when we feel we are constantly Iceland. When Graeme Souness said that our World Cup in the past was qualifying rather than playing there, he got some stick for it. Lack of ambition or reality check? The latter for me. Fitba is a mass participation sport in Scotland – long may that continue. But spiralling costs in electricity, greater pressure on the public purse and huge demands on household finances will mean we are sitting waiting on some miracle to happen. We are used to the Simple Minds of the legislators and hear more of how the latest experiment is going than whether they will sanction kick off times to 2pm or earlier to save the floodlights, look at more weekend games than midweek ones to help out and invest the TV money in areas without the game rather than where it may be already thriving. As for the headlines, there seems to be a picture for every opportunity. Let us hope that whilst people are posing, the lifeblood of the game does not end up on life support due to the pressures, we are unable to control. Let us not end up only pointing to the fancy camera and say cheese as the next foreign import makes a name for themselves ahead of the Academy Graduate…

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