Scottish Referees and VAR. Is it time for dialogue about the elephant in the cave?
With the introduction of VAR to Scottish football our football media, On line, Audio or Print has been akin to living in Plato’s Cave where debate/discussion concentrates on the shadows reflected on the wall by the light of a fire: (PLATO ON: The Allegory of the Cave – YouTube ) The shadows take the following shapes.
Was it handball?
What is handball?
Was it a penalty?
Was it offside?
What are offside rules anyway?
Do referees know them?
Do they apply them with any degree of consistency?
All of interest as they are delved into, dissected disputed, but all ignoring the biggest shadow of the biggest animal in the cave:- that of the elephant called ” trust”.
In the context of Scottish football, ever since the game became professional, referees in Scotland have never been trusted because of the demography of Scotland, itself created as a result of historical events in Scotland and its near neighbours Ireland and England. In such a diverse populace tribal distrust of the other is a fertile breeding ground to grow and take life, like unattended weeds choke a garden.
In the Plato’s Cave allegory the commentator suggests the way out of the cave is by philosophical education and if you watch the video, one description of his guidance on such education is “dialogue.”
So what is dialogue?
“ Dialogue is a conversation on a common subject between two or more persons with differing views, the primary purpose of which is for each participant to learn from the other so that s/he can change and grow. This very definition of dialogue embodies the first commandment of dialogue.
If we approach another party to either defeat them or to learn about them so as to deal more effectively with her or him, or at best to negotiate with him or her. If we face each other at all in confrontation–sometimes more openly polemically, sometimes more subtly so, but always with the ultimate goal of defeating the other, because we are convinced that we alone have the absolute truth, we are indulging in debate and not dialogue.
But dialogue is not debate. In dialogue each party must listen to the other as openly and sympathetically as s/he can in an attempt to understand the other’s position as precisely and, as it were, as much from within, as possible. Such an attitude automatically includes the assumption that at any point we might find the other party’s position so persuasive that, if we would act with integrity, we would have to change, and change can be disturbing.
The parties must be prepared to come to the dialogue as persons ready to put aside their own needs and wants, at least for a time. They must be ready to listen, without judgement, to the thoughts and feelings as expressed by the other person in the exchange. The parties must be prepared to accept that reaching agreement may not be achieved, although that might occur, but dialogue will lead to both parties, through a better understanding of the others’ needs and wants, to being able to live amicably with their differences.”
How, then, can Scottish football supporters as key stakeholders in the game via their own club supporter organisations and the likes of The Scottish Football Supporters Association (SFSA) as well as the clubs themselves effectively engage in a meaningful dialogue?
There are 10 “Commandments in the Original Dialogue Decalogue by Leonard Swidler that can be read at
but the following two are particularly apt in terms of acknowledging the presence of the particular elephant in our own Scottish football cave in order to drag it out and into the light?
SEVENTH COMMANDMENT: Dialogue can take place only between equals. Both must come to learn from each other. Therefore, if, for example, one party views the other as inferior, or if one party views the other as superior, there will be no dialogue. If authentic relationship dialogue is to occur between the parties, then both must come mainly to learn from each other; only then will it be “equal with equal,”. This rule also indicates that there can be no such thing as a one-way dialogue.
EIGHTH COMMANDMENT: Dialogue can take place only on the basis of mutual trust, which must be built. A dialogue among persons can be built only on personal trust. Hence it is wise not to tackle the most difficult problems in the beginning, but rather to approach first those issues most likely to provide some common ground, thereby establishing the basis of trust. Then, gradually, as this personal trust deepens and expands, the more thorny matters can be undertaken. Thus, as in learning we move from the known to the unknown. So in dialogue we proceed from commonly held matters, which, given our mutual ignorance resulting from possibly years of misunderstanding and possibly hostility in the relationship, may take us quite some time to discover fully–to discuss matters of disagreement.
Philosophy/dialogue is all very well but what can it do to bring about the required level of trust?
The advice above is via small steps and one small step but with huge benefits would be the introduction of transparency to the VAR process. This could be done in the reasonable short term by making conversation between referees and VAR assistant audible to all.
It is a technical approach but with behaviour changing consequences because observed behaviour changes that of those being observed. It need not be live during a game but at very least released within half an hour of a match ending. It brings in transparency which is the forerunner to accountability and would be a game changer.
Longer term strategy for culture change to improve professionalism of referees, which the proposal by Sentinel Celts Calling Out Scottish Referees – SENTINELCELTS sets out should be part of a longer terms strategy for changing the culture of the referee service with the ultimate aim of making refereeing a very rewarding professional career and be fertile territory for dialogue between all stakeholders, not least referees themselves.
A lesson that Scottish football authorities should take from events since 2000 through to 2012 is that anything done in secret, like the infamous Five Way Agreement of July 2012 , no matter the reasons for justifying so at the time, is a recipe for unforeseen toxic consequences as the universe unfolds as it does when the dead bodies buried in secret rise from their graves like Zombies.”