VAR Controversy at the Women’s World Cup

By Sonia Denoncourt

Prior to June 7th, I feared the possible negative influence of VAR at the Women’s World Cup. In this case I wanted to be wrong, but unfortunately it has been the talk of the tournament so far and especially the last few days where 3 penalties were overruled and 2 retaken. The Law and its interpretation need to be reviewed again. The application of VAR needs to be reviewed. The drama was not necessary and could have been avoided.

VAR worked fairly well at the men’s World Cup in Russia 2018 and the system saved a few clear and obvious errors from the referees. VAR was intended to overrule clear and obvious mistakes, not to penalise goalkeepers for being inches off their line. To begin with, was the foul leading to the penalty a “serious missed incident” during the game France v Nigeria? In my honest opinion, the penalty was not clear and obvious. I feel the pain for the Nigerians. Wendie Renard (France) kicked the ball wide before being given a second chance. It is not fair to have a retake because Chiamaka Nnadozie had moved slightly off her line and the ball was not even kicked on target. But technically speaking this is the current Law! However, I insist that the Law needs to be reviewed again.

Rarely in a match, do we have a “perfect execution of a penalty. There is almost always an encroachment from an attacker or defender or by the goalkeeper. We have never sweat the “small stuff” before. To retake a penalty (kicks from the penalty mark), it must be obvious and blatant. If we call an inch off the goal line, we then must call an inch of encroachment by an attacker or defender entering the penalty area before the ball is kicked. That would be consistently applying the Laws of the Game. It is impossible without technology and was never applied strictly. The Laws must be applied with common sense. This is a human game, not a computer game.

Another concern: If the referee is ultimately in charge and has the final say in every decision, why are the referees are not checking the monitor every time for themselves? If this is a question of an in or out decision, we then follow the VAR “suggestions” without checking as this is not an interpretation of the Law? If so, it means now that VAR is making the decisions and not the referee on the field. This is not correct.

If the review takes 4 minutes as it took in the Scotland’s game, why was the time was not added? It is crucial when the score is 2-1. The referees are lost now, and VAR has taken a different turn. VAR is interfering with non-critical decisions from the referees and instead of helping, it confuses everyone. VAR should exist for game changing decisions that are clear and obvious and not to referee the game from a studio.

I felt the emotions of the Scotland players when their dreams of qualification for the knockout rounds died on Wednesday night as Florencia Bonsegundo’s twice-taken penalty hit the back of the net, deep into stoppage time. It must have been heartbreaking. The way the game ended was troubling, especially leading 3-0 at 74th minute and a dramatic end with the VAR review.

The women’s game is treated unfairly. It feels wrong to have only men acting as VAR as no Women are in charge in that position during this World Cup! It sends the wrong message. It’s the wrong visual to the World. Let’s not talk again about the last Women’s World Cup played on artificial pitches while it would never have happened for a men’s World Cup. That was highly unpopular with players and coaches. What about the huge disparity in bonuses, team allowances and money paid to the referees? And, we can go on with multiple examples of inequity and inequality in the Football World.

What does it tell you that following the applications of VAR at the World Cup, the Premier League has already announced that VAR will not be used to monitor goalkeepers’ positioning of penalties next season? This is hugely telling. Is it possible, is it allowed? You use VAR or not, you cannot use the system partially and at your convenience. If so, what is the point of trying to be consistent in the application of the Laws of the game?

The technology was brought in to correct obvious and clear errors, not to impose perfection. In every change made in the beautiful game, it should aim to reach a higher degree of consistency and fairness.

My heart is broken. The game must be fair.

I love the game. Let’s protect it together.


Sonia Denoncourt is a former FIFA level referee, refereeing in 3 FIFA Women’s World Cups and 2 Olympic Games. She regularly contributes to the RefLIVE Blog. You can follow her updates on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.


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