The next season of the cinch Premiership, the top division of the Scottish Professional Football League, kicks off on July 30th and plans to be using Video Review by the last week of December
Ian Fyfe from the Scottish FA spent time with the Professional Referee Organization during the offseason to learn more about Video Review.
Fyfe attended PRO’s recent Video Review camp and had a tour around the centralized facility in Atlanta, as well as spending time with the PRO support staff and engaging in the officials’ training.
After taking charge of games in the Scottish top flight for several years, Fyfe has worked as a referee observer across the country and been instrumental in the conversations around introducing VAR support to the Premiership.
The Scottish FA has been working on the VAR project for two years. It is currently training around 22 active referees and 28 active assistant referees to operate as VARs and AVARs respectively, alongside continuing their on-field duties.
“I’ve spoken to lots of helpful people over the phone and taken lots of advice, but this was the first overseas in-person visit I’ve made in terms of referee education, information, and so on,” said Fyfe.
“It was really useful. I wanted two things from the trip, and I got them both. I wanted to learn some new things and that’s partly because the US guys are several years down the road.
“Some of the advanced coaching I received was great; it opened my eyes to things like camera angles and how the VAR should speak to the referee.
“I also wanted to make sure we weren’t completely off track, and I was really encouraged when the guys talked about the process of VAR. What’s the referee decision on the field of play? Was it a clear and obvious error? Have you got the pictures to show it?
“That’s what we have been drumming into our officials and it’s great to see that it was very much the focus of this PRO camp. Getting the process right will invariably lead to getting the decision right, and that’s the place that we are in.”
There was a real openness and people challenging each other in the right way. There’s also a real commitment to learning, which was fantastic, and it’s clear that even five years down the line there is still a drive to improve.
Fyfe and other members of the Scottish FA have also been completing assessments of stadiums, ranging from Celtic’s 60,000-seater home to the 6,500-capacity ground of Ross County.
Despite the variety of stadia in the league, it is planned that a minimum of six camera angles will be available at each game, with potentially more available at the bigger grounds that have already used VAR for European matches.
“Our top referees have been using VAR in European competition and they have driven a lot of the demand for it, and they get their colleagues enthused by it as well.
“It sounds a little geeky, but the simulator training and getting to use the kit, having things happening left, right, and center, and being required to behave like they are a VAR, the guys have absolutely loved it and it’s really helped bring it on.
“At PRO I saw a very diverse group which was great. There was a real openness and people challenging each other in the right way.
“There’s also a real commitment to learning, which was fantastic, and it’s clear that even five years down the line there is still a drive to improve.
“The guys discussed that if it’s a penalty area decision that the referee is pushing back on, the referee would look at a minimum of two angles before they step away from the monitor. Of course, people don’t want to lose marks or look bad, and naturally, you want to hang on to your original decision and say you got it right; that’s all human behavior and you’ve got to swallow that.
“That’s a big piece I’ll take back, educating referees that sometimes it’s going to happen, and you will make mistakes [in real-time], and you’ve got to be open to what happens next.”
Now Fyfe and his team have five months to ensure everything is ready for the league to implement VAR by the end of the year, with the next big step training wider stakeholders.
“Engagement and education are the big things. The referees are keen, the clubs are now keen, we have a good technology partner, the stadiums will be ready, and now we’ve got to engage with the public, fans, broadcasters and commentators.
“It’s so people understand when VAR can and can’t intervene, and why it did or didn’t intervene. There’s about 98 percent accuracy on decision making; the key to that is it’s not 100 percent.
“There are still going to be incidents that are right on the line of intervention, and you could have an argument with your pals in the pub about it, because what is a clear and obvious situation to you might not be to others. A VAR is still a human being with an opinion and getting the public to understand that is a big piece for us.
“It was an open house for me at PRO and I felt very much included and a part of what was happening at the camp, it was really valuable.”