Singapore Premier League set to implement VAR system in 2023
The Singapore Premier League (SPL) is set to become only the second professional football league in Asean after Thailand to employ video assistant referee (VAR) technology, with officials “confident” of implementing it as early as 2023.
Football Association of Singapore (FAS) director of referees Nazeer Hussain, who is also the project lead, said it is at the third stage of implementation, which “focuses on the preparation and training of match officials and VAR technology”. There are five stages in all.
He added: “The training sessions are going well and we are in the process of scheduling visits for Fifa officials to come down and assess our progress, and approve the use of VAR here in Singapore.
“There’s still work to be done, but if all goes well, we are confident of implementing VAR in the SPL next year.”
Nazeer said the VAR implementation process can take between 12 and 18 months, according to the Implementation Assistance and Approval Programme (IAAP) developed by Fifa. But he added that the FAS has been able to “work effectively within a shortened timeline”, thanks to commitment from the referees, instructors and staff.
Covid-19 restrictions meant that Fifa VAR project manager of refereeing Michael Bailey, VAR implementation project leader Dirk Schlemmer and football technology manager Bhaveshan Moorghen could fly to Singapore only in February 2022, when they conducted a two-day workshop to lay the foundations and kickstart the project, said FAS.
Fifa referee Taqi Jahari – a video match official at the upcoming World Cup in Qatar – and Fifa technical instructor John Chia were also on hand to equip and train the prospective officials to meet Fifa’s technical requirements.
World football’s governing body also supported Singapore’s efforts through the Fifa Forward Programme, which partially subsidised the cost of the project. It is understood that details such as cost and the number of cameras used will be announced closer to its implementation.
VAR has been introduced in world football since 2016, with the system written into the Laws of the Game in 2018. It can be used during matches only for clear and obvious errors or serious missed incidents in four situations involving goals, penalties, direct red-card incidents, and mistaken identity.
In Singapore, the late FAS president Lim Kia Tong had mooted the idea of using VAR in the SPL in 2021 with the desire to elevate the standards of the local football fraternity and enhance the level of officiating.
Nazeer added: “The FAS is constantly striving to improve the quality of football here and one key element of this is the performance of our match officials. We want them to be kept abreast with the latest developments in officiating, both in terms of their knowledge of the game and by equipping them with technological aids.”
News of impending VAR implementation was welcomed by the local football fraternity. Lion City Sailors captain Hariss Harun said: “It is the way to go for the good of the game here, as the top leagues are also using VAR. I would like to think that it will be used to reduce clear errors in decisive moments to ensure fairness, and not to re-referee entire matches.”
Hougang United coach Clement Teo also felt that “the extra pair of eyes” will be useful to spot and address clear infringements and errors, such as the foul against Tampines Rovers’ Boris Kopitovic which took place outside the box but resulted in a penalty in the Cheetahs’ 4-1 loss on Oct 8.
He added: “We have seen VAR consistency issues in Europe, and it can happen here too, but the VAR will definitely benefit the league by raising overall officiating standards as it will help referees make more correct decisions and make the games fairer for everyone.”
Tampines were also affected by a wrong call when a Firdaus Kasman goal was wrongly ruled out for offside in another SPL match in March against Lion City Sailors, who won 1-0. This led to an apology from Nazeer to Tampines chairman Desmond Ong for the mistake.
Ong said: “VAR will help in certain areas, but this has to be matched by an improvement in refeering standards, because things like missed yellow card offences, throw-ins awarded to the wrong team, and not enough time added on are not within VAR purview.
“I also reserve judgment about the VAR camera quality and how well they can be installed at stadiums such as Hougang and Toa Payoh without a good vantage point and investment on the necessary infrastructure.”
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