Football is changing. From an increase in support across the globe, to technological advancements being made; the beautiful game as we know it is on a steady path to a bright new future. While we are not quite at the stage of robotic referees, lasers for linesman or mobile drones, the overall state of football has experienced drastic, yet crucial, changes in the last few years.
The next stop on this path is to try to make women’s football a fairer game. Thanks to the success of goal line and video assistant referee (VAR) technology in men’s football, FIFA has confirmed that VAR technology will be implemented at the women’s World Cup, in France, this summer.
While the technology does come with many benefits, some people remain unsure about whether or not VAR is the right answer to help women’s football. Elle-Louise Kaplicz, a level 4 referee, echoes these thoughts. “I’m glad to see it [VAR] being brought in because it worked really well in the men’s World Cup, but I don’t think they’ve actually had enough training to use it,” she says. “I think it should have been brought in earlier rather than straight in at the women’s World Cup.”
“[Due to] training it’ll actually mainly be males on VAR. Since it’s the women’s World Cup, they should have actually prepared the women before it,” Elle says. “It’s kind of taken away from them a bit.”
Elle believes friendly fixtures should have been organized in order to better prepare everyone for VAR and that: “It will be a massive shock to the players and the referees themselves when they finally use it.”
VAR technology is already being used across Europe in men’s leagues such as the Bundesliga and Serie A. However, no domestic or international competition in women’s football currently uses the technology. If an agreement can be made, the World Cup, this summer, would be the first time that VAR has featured in senior women’s football.
The FIFA panel overseeing the competition had previously recommended VAR for the tournament. Additionally, VAR has been supported by many people working in football. Jill Ellis, the United States women’s coach, has previously commented on how it would be ‘insulting’ if the technology were not used since it was successfully used in the men’s World Cup in Russia, last year.
Meanwhile, Phil Neville, head coach of the England women’s national team, has commented on how ‘important’ it is for VAR to be used in women’s football.
Despite this, Sophie Lawson, VAVEL’s editor for their women’s football section, disagrees with this notion. “It’s a tough system and there has been little implementation of it in women’s football. To try and get a hang of [VAR] in less than 100 days is a massive ask,” she says. “It’s a good idea in theory but less so in practice. VAR is only as good as the referee using it.”
“The standard of refereeing in women’s football isn’t brilliant. I would rather see an improvement in the standard of refereeing in women’s football before we start bringing in VAR and adding other things on top of that too,” Sophie says.
Sophie goes on to comment on the fact that because the standard of refereeing in women’s football is not brilliant, she would rather see some changes made to refereeing since the current state of officiating could still be negative with VAR.
“VAR is only as good as the referee using it. If the referee does not understand the range of the law or if it is black and white in [their] interpretation, you will still have the issues you currently have,” she says. “It’ll always boil down to the referee.”
Although many problems remain in the sport, the introduction of VAR at the women’s World Cup would help to make the sport a fairer game. An investigation into the effectiveness of VAR by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) supports this. Their report discovered that VAR was 98.9% accurate in decision making, which is a 5.9% increase from accuracy without the technology in place.
Despite some concerns, the introduction of VAR would be a step in the right direction for women’s football and it is definitely exciting for some fans and players. Sarah Essam, forward for Stoke City Ladies and Egypt’s women’s national football team, is enthusiastic about VAR. “I think it’s one of the best things that has ever happened to football,” she says. “If [you] look back 10 years ago from today I think we’ve made good steps forward in women’s football to make it more professional.”
“We should not make a difference between [the] men’s World Cup and [the] women’s World Cup,” Sarah says. “It will be a huge appreciation for women’s football to let VAR technology be a part of the tournament.”
“Football is football and mistakes by the referees in men’s football can be the same as the mistakes in women’s football too.”