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Women's World Cup

VAR carnage is coming: Women's World Cup a harbinger for new season refereeing ruin

12:00 am AEST 1/7/19
Sam Kerr VAR split pic
Controversy in the Champions League, more of the same in France this summer and added rule changes aren't a good omen for the men's game

If you want to be picked to go to a major tournament, you need to be in form, so how did VAR end up at the Women’s World Cup?

It had a shambolic season in the Champions League, despite the officials using it being among the very best in the business.

How, then, did FIFA think that it would work better with referees, who are admittedly of a much lower standard, in the women’s game?

England manager Phil Neville described the officiating as his “biggest concern” going into the World Cup.

“For the women's game to get better we need to be having conversations like this and be brave enough to come out and say this needs to improve,” he said.

While the likes of Australia’s Kate Jacewicz and Claudia Umpierrez of Uruguay have impressed in France, poor decisions have plagued the World Cup throughout – with many stemming from the use of VAR.

Arsene Wenger, who described himself as “100 per cent” for VAR, told France 24: “I think it has been used in this World Cup too much in situations when it was not needed.”

He stressed the need for “common sense” and believes that officials have relied “too much on the video”.

“We have to keep VAR but we have to suppress the referee leaving the pitch to make the decision and leave the decision to the referees upstairs."

Only one of the referees in France, Germany’s Bibiana Steinhaus, was familiar with the technology coming into the tournament, having used it in the Bundesliga.

The introduction of new laws has only made things even more complicated.

The new handball rule has been a particularly confusing one. Japan’s elimination at the hands of the Netherlands came from a hugely controversial call.

The scoreline read 1-1 when Saki Kumagai was penalised in the 90th minute, for making her body bigger and having her arm in an ‘unnatural’ position.

But with her stretching, jumping and moving, her arms were in as natural a position they could be.

It was a similar incident to that which saw Presnel Kimpembe punished in Manchester United’s Champions League win over Paris Saint-Germain this season.

The defender jumped to block a shot and his arms, used for balance, were in a natural position when Diogo Dalot’s strike hit them – even if they were making his body bigger.

The law has become distorted beyond belief and by no means objective.

The one rule change that is objective, on the other hand, has arguably been cruelly implemented.

Goalkeepers must now have one foot on their goal line when a penalty-taker takes their shot, forcing many to forget years and years of training.

Wendie Renard and France benefited from this rule and a retake when her original spot-kick hit the post, allowing them to beat Nigeria 1-0.

Scotland were left devastated when Lee Alexander saved a late Argentina penalty to ensure their place in the last 16, only for the referee to order a retake and the resulting goal sending them out of the competition.

"We need to talk about this rule and the way it's impacting matches,” former United States goalkeeper Hope Solo tweeted after the latter match.

“Stepping off your line does not do enough to cut down the angle during a penalty to justify a retake,” the World Cup winner argued.

“There's not enough time during a penalty kick for any goalkeeper to get close enough to shut down the angle.”

England’s Karen Bardsley also questioned the new rules, saying: “For something so new to be introduced on such a big stage, it’s hard to get your head around it in terms of changing habits.

“It just seems cruel and so pedantic.”

Rules such as your run-of-the-mill offside and encroachment are good for VAR, such is their black and white nature, but for a rule like handball, which has grey areas, problems occur due to the requirement of good refereeing and, as Wenger says, common sense.

While VAR was trialled in the Confederations Cup before bringing it to the men’s World Cup, this summer has been the first use of it in the women’s game – in the biggest competition in the game, the pinnacle of a footballer’s career.

Pierluigi Collina argued otherwise at a media briefing last week, saying: "We didn't consider the Women's World Cup, which is our flagship tournament in 2019, as a World Cup, we cannot consider this competition as an experiment."

But the lack of experience and lower standard among referees in France makes the decision to use VAR baffling.

If higher standard and more experienced referees in the men’s game struggle to use it correctly, how was this ever going to improve the standard?

It’s understandable that it has been difficult for these officials, particularly with the International Football Association Board changing rules midway through the tournament regarding goalkeeper encroachment.

Now, all of these officials – except the aforementioned Steinhaus – will go another four years without touching VAR, and that is if they return for the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

For the men’s game, however, it’s not a great omen going into the new season.

After all of the confusion in the Champions League, nothing is any clearer and new rules have made things even more confusing.

Football has called for more technology to help referees for many years now, but if the past 12 months have told us anything, it’s to be careful what you wish for. 

The Premier League will not enforce the encroachment rule next season, something that shocked and seemed to anger Collina.

“The rules of the game must be enforced in every country and competition,” he said.

"You cannot decide how to enforce the rules of the game.

“If you don't like something, you need to respect the laws of the game; that is what we are enforcing here in France."

But the chaos that has ensued at the Women’s World Cup makes it hard to respect such changes.