VAR and the Women’s World Cup

Jun 26, 2019


The enormous success of the Women’s World Cup cannot be understated. The BBC reported that the 2019 tournament has become the most viewed women’s football tournament on television. England’s clash with Scotland in the group stage generated 6.1 million views, whilst their other group games averaged 5 million each, a surprising figure for a sport that was once pushed aside…

Among England’s journey to the quarter-final, we’ve been spoilt with entertaining football throughout the tournament’s fixtures. Thailand managed their first World Cup goal, Australia came back from a 3 goal deficit and the USA managed 13 goals… IN A SINGLE GAME!

So far, the women’s tournament has impressed. There have been celebrations both on and off the pitch and the publicity for the women’s game has been a milestone in the growth of the sport. However, there have been some disappointing scenes in recent games which have somewhat tarnished a great advert for female football.

 

What is happening with VAR?

Among the trials and tribulations of the tournament, VAR has played a key part in many of the issues we have seen in recent games. The video assistant refereeing process has unfortunately stolen headlines and even led to the standard of referees being questioned.

Various group games seem to be remembered by VAR incidents and this weekend’s knockout games were no different. For example, France hosted Brazil in a 2-1 win where disallowed goals and controversial decisions seemed to take place every 5 minutes.

 

Isn’t the system supposed to eradicate issues from the game?

It is, but this has certainly come at a cost. Yes, VAR does work and yes, it helps the referees in times when important decisions have to be made. However, is the controversy and upset worth the technology?

Don’t get me wrong, there have been times in the past when people screamed out for technology to help referees (Frank Lampard’s goal against Germany being one of them), but it appears the finished product of VAR isn’t as pleasing as goal-line technology.

How can both fan and player enjoy the game when VAR rains down on every exciting moment?

Celebrations take place before goals become disallowed and players often feel deflated after riding the emotional roller-coaster of being involved in a World Cup goal. It’s like being given your favourite teddy bear for Christmas, then having it taken away from you.

 

Players and fans get upset – who could blame them?

 

England V Cameroon

The biggest incidents of VAR came in England’s round of 16 clash with Cameroon. An offside moment, disallowed goals and penalty decisions were all placed on the resume of VAR in Sunday’s clash.

With England 2-0 up at half-time, Cameroon felt they were treated unfairly and appeared to prepare a strike on the centre circle. After coming back in the second half, Cameroon then had a goal disallowed for offside. Although very close, the decision was correct.

It didn’t seem to be Cameroon’s day and ultimately they were knocked out in a 3-0 defeat to Phil Neville’s side.

Regardless of the VAR moments throughout the match, the behaviour of the Cameroon side caused more controversy with Phil Neville questioning their behaviour. He said…

 

‘’Those images are going out worldwide and young girls are seeing that behaviour and it’s not right.’’

 

‘’It didn’t feel like football.’’

 

 

In his post-match press conference, he made a point of speaking out before questions were asked. He said how pleased he was that the women’s game was improving and becoming an exciting sport on the world stage, but very quickly flipped emotions within the room. He spoke of how he was completely and utterly ashamed of the behaviour of the Cameroon players.

 

‘’I think it’s pretty sad.’’

 

Seemingly, Cameroon’s behaviour was unacceptable, but what is the answer to end the controversy surrounding VAR?

A common thought is that it’s being used as a ‘safety net’ for referees who are unsure on decisions – and I can’t disagree with them. Certain decisions in recent games, such as England’s goal (which was initially called offside) don’t help the cause. The quality of referees must be exceptional to reduce the constant need for technological assistance.

 

Has it affected perceptions of the tournament?

Overall, the tournament has been a huge success. Not only has the football been great, but the worldwide recognition and awareness for the women’s game has risen significantly.

We asked Gemma and Asha from our Ski & Sports Tours team about the Women’s World Cup and whether VAR had damaged the overall feel of the event. Their reactions weren’t at all surprising.

They agreed that things like goal-line technology were welcome additions to the game. However, when VAR is used in subjective circumstances like fouls or penalty claims, opinions can somewhat cloud decisions, which is where problems begin to occur.

Between the three of us, we couldn’t think of a game throughout the tournament where VAR hadn’t become the topic of conversation. This has been the case since the tournament began; half-time punditry and post-match analysis seems to be dominated by the debate of whether VAR has done its job and how it’s affected the game to varying degrees.

Importantly, we did question whether VAR was fully to blame as the quality of referees has equally been brought into question. Many of the refs brought to the tournament have lacked big game experience, which became apparent at certain points in the tournament. VAR can’t become a comfort blanket for a referee’s uncertainty. That’s a road nobody wants to go down.

 

This raised the question, why can’t the referees be male?

For a tournament so important to the future of the women’s game, surely a high-calibre of referees would have been critical to the smooth operation of the event?

This is not to say that a portion of the female referees at the tournament aren’t fit for purpose. However, some might fall short of the experience required for such an important occasion. Therefore, investment into the training of female referees was a key point made by Gemma and Asha during our chat.

Ultimately, they were very disappointed. They were disheartened that the standard of football and the excellent growth that’s been showcased within the tournament had been overshadowed by the issues surrounding VAR.

 

Here are some of their thoughts, do you agree?

 

 

‘’The celebration and elation of goals is being taken away from us.’’

 

 

‘’It’s allowing football to transition into a stop-start sport which isn’t good.’’

 

’VAR has overshadowed the growth of the women’s game.’’

 

Where do we go from here?

Upon discussing the solutions to the problem of VAR, there seemed to be few solutions aside from removing the technology all together. Gemma and Asha suggested a call system for each team, similar to what’s used in the tennis with Hawkeye. This would give teams the opportunity to potentially overrule the referee’s decision if they deemed it to be incorrect.

Undoubtedly, VAR will continue to grow and develop within its infancy period. Referees and other external forces must align with it in order for it to be truly effective within crucial football tournaments such as this one.

 

Will we grow to love it? Only time will tell…