Friday 07 October 2022, 14:00

Singapore taking big strides in refereeing

  • Muhammad Taqi Aljaafari Bin Jahari will feature at Qatar 2022 as a Video Match Official

  • VAR is being introduced to Singapore with assistance from FIFA Forward funding

  • VAR is yet to be operational in much of Southeast Asia

Enter the corridors of the Football Association of Singapore [FAS] and it is clear they take great pride in their achievements – and with good reason too. Lining the walls are plaques honouring the landmarks and history-makers of local football, be it players, administrators or referees. A new name is now about to be added to this inspiring homage. Muhammad Taqi Aljaafari Bin Jahari will shortly be heading to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ where he will feature among world football’s elite as a Video Match Official (VMO).

Impressively, Taqi will be the fifth Singaporean to officiate at a FIFA World Cup. With four AFF Championships to their credit – a figure better only by regional giants Thailand – Singaporean football has a surprisingly lengthy history of accomplishment. Much like the city-state itself - one of the smaller nations in the world by area - Singapore football has more than made the most of its limited resources.

For Taqi, being appointed as a Video Match Official at Qatar 2022 is part of a refereeing journey that has included an AFC Asian Cup, and a FIFA U-20 World Cup among a lengthy list of achievements. Notably, Taqi, in addition to being an elite VMO, has been a key figure in the ongoing implementation of video technology in the Singapore Premier League.

Recognising that VAR would elevate the standards of the local football fraternity and enhance the level of officiating for match officials, FAS began working towards the introduction of VAR in Singapore at the end of last year. With the assistance of FIFA Forward-funding, Singapore is set to become just the third nation to introduce VAR technology in the [ASEAN Football Federation] region. Taqi's appointment is emblematic of the worldwide changes in the field over the past four years. Most of the VMOs at Russia 2018 hailed from Europe and South America due to the limited number of FIFA Member Associations that had implemented VAR at the time. “It is a dream come true to be at the World Cup, especially [given] the World Cup is the largest competition or largest tournament or largest sport[ing event], I would say, in the world, and everybody is watching these matches,” Taqi said. The 36-year-old’s journey to Qatar 2022 has been as gruelling as any of his colleagues, having endured multiple international trips and numerous quarantine periods of 14, and even 21 days.

“I believe this VAR implementation programme in Singapore will elevate the league itself locally, and at the same time, will raise the standards of officiating for our match officials,” says Taqi who is assisting FAS Director (Referees) Nazeer Hussain for the VAR project, guiding technical and practical components.

With 11 years on his CV as a FIFA international assistant referee, Nazeer is well placed to judge both Taqi’s achievements and the importance of managing the introduction of VAR to Singapore. “I’m very pleased and very proud that we have Taqi - a Singaporean - going to represent Singapore in the World Cup,” he said. “The whole nation itself will be very proud of his achievement as well. “I think this is also a testament [to] the refereeing programmes that we have in place already. [They] are actually producing results right now, we can see it. And, it’s a testament to Taqi himself, for his dedication, commitment, the time sacrificed and put in over the years so that this opportunity [would come up] for him. “VAR is quite new in ASEAN countries, hence we are grateful for FIFA’s assistance, as we were able to draw on [their] experience and expertise to help lay the foundations for its smooth implementation. “Thinking about the ASEAN region as a whole, Singapore feels like a stepping stone because when we are successful and have implemented everything correctly, it seems like the whole of the region benefits, because other countries in the region can look to implement [VAR] in their leagues and systems.”

Taqi is hoping Singaporeans can take pride in having one of their own at world football’s greatest event and that he will inspire the next generation. “I really hope that I’m not the last Singaporean to be at a World Cup,” he said. “I hope to see more, and I hope to share my experiences, my knowledge with these referees because, at the end of the day, honestly, I feel that we have the potential among our young referees to be at the international level. “But more importantly, for me, I think, I hope this appointment will be like a catalyst for the younger referees to find solutions, to see that there is always an opportunity for a country like Singapore, which is small, to have talented match officials [with the potential] to be at the international or world class level.”

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