FIFA’s head of referees defends VAR decisions


Refereeing at the Women’s World Cup has been under severe scrutiny with VAR and other interventions wrecking the natural rhythm of the game, but FIFA’s head of referees Pierluigi Collina has shrugged off the storm of criticism, saying that the tournament is not “an experiment” for new rules using the VAR.

The world governing body even expressed surprise over the wave of criticism over laws regarding goalkeepers encroaching at penalties.

FIFA said the same rules have been implemented across all competitions from June 1. “The only issue, apparently, concerns penalty kicks,” said Collina. “And honestly we have been a bit surprised. VAR cannot be blind, cannot ignore. If you have a tool that offers you the possibility to check, you have to check.”

Penalties have almost dominated this Women’s World Cup with a new law stipulating that a penalty kick can be re-taken if goalkeepers are spotted advancing off their line before the ball is kicked. That has given goalkeepers almost no space to manoeuvre and has led to controversial calls.

Scotland goalkeeper Lee Alexander saved a late penalty in her side’s 3-3 draw with Argentina but a retake was ordered after VAR ruled she had moved off her line. In the group stages hosts France also benefited when a penalty against Nigeria hit the post.

But Collina admitted that the rule had been tweaked slightly by lawmakers in order to not make saving a penalty a mission impossible.

“We acknowledged that saving a penalty by keeping two feet on the goal line until the taker kicks the ball makes the goalkeeper’s job almost impossible,” said Collina. “If something is written in the laws of the game it must be respected. It is not a matter of a small encroachment or big encroachment, it is a matter of encroachment, and this is what we can do by using technology.”

On Tuesday, 2015 runners up Japan were eliminated from the tournament after a harsh penalty decision against the Asian team allowed Holland to score from the spot and see out the final minutes of the game to win a tense knockout tie 2-1. Technically the rule was applied, but it seems that shooting at defenders’ arms inside the box has now become a fool-proof way of eliciting a penalty call from the referee.

“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,” maintained Collina, rebutting that the introduction of new laws on June 1 led the tournament to become a guinea pig.

FIFA also trumpeted that VAR helped referees reach a 98.18% accuracy rate in decision-making during the group stages in France.

Next season the Premier League will introduce VAR, but the league will not use it to rule on goalkeepers moving off their line to save a penalty