PARIS — Amid criticism that video assistant referee technology is affecting the product on the field in the Women’s World Cup, FIFA spent the day before the start of the quarterfinals arguing that the system is working as well as it did last year during the men’s tournament in Russia.
Chairman of the FIFA refereeing committee Pierluigi Collina led a panel Wednesday that spoke to the media for more than an hour to defend the use of VAR.
“Compared to Russia last summer,” Collina said, “Honestly, I don’t see the difference.”
After first using VAR in a World Cup last summer, FIFA announced this spring that it would also use the technology for the women’s tournament this summer. No other competition in women’s soccer uses VAR.
According to Collina, the on-field referees involved in France this summer participated in at least four seminars and 55 hours of practical and simulator training related to the use of VAR. Most of the 15 VAR officials also filled those roles in last year’s World Cup.
In 44 matches entering the quarterfinals of this tournament, there have been 29 official reviews and 25 decisions changed after review.
There were only 20 reviews and 17 decisions changed after review in 64 matches during last year’s World Cup.
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Collina conceded the increase but made the case that the number of VAR reviews in the current tournament is in line with other FIFA events going on this summer, including the Under-20 World Cup and Copa America. In the U-20 World Cup, for instance, there were 30 reviews and 26 decisions changed after review in 52 matches.
Expressing general surprise at the degree of controversy surrounding officiating in the tournament, Collina pointed to confusion about rule changes implemented at the beginning of the month as the cause. Most in contention is the rule requiring goalkeepers to keep one foot on the goal line until a player taking a penalty kick makes contact with the ball.
Strict enforcement of the rule through video replay played high-profile and controversial roles in France’s 1-0 win against Nigeria and Argentina’s 3-3 draw with Scotland.
He acknowledged FIFA could have done more to communicate the changes with the public.
“Maybe we should have spoken before, trying to clarify some aspects,” Collina said. “Because I’m sure if we continue to play some clips and explain what is going on, certainly it will be more understood. … It might be possible that it was our fault because we were not clear.”
The overall tone of the briefing suggested FIFA sees few issues with its refereeing product. Collina and others on the panel downplayed concerns about long delays and suggestions that the presence of review might make referees hesitant or damage the essence the sport.
“Using common sense is something good when using common sense doesn’t affect the interests of someone else,” Collina said. “If I use common sense with you, but my common sense creates a problem, damage to someone else, I cannot use common sense. I need to enforce the laws of the game. This is what we want, to have the laws of the game enforced.”
In reference to the controversial game between England and Cameroon on June 23, Collina said England’s opening goal — which marked the first of several contentious decisions, including a disallowed Cameroonian equalizer — was not subject to on-field review because it involved a question of whether or not an English player was offside.
Collina then addressed allegations that VAR favors European teams at the expense of African, Asian and South American teams.
“Honestly for us, there are six continents,” Collina said. “All the teams coming from the six continents, for us, are important, for us are deserving of our maximum attention. And then everyone is free to complain if they wish. What is important is to complain based on facts. If there are no facts, then I have nothing to say.”
Collina also announced that German referee Bibiana Steinhaus will not continue because of an injury sustained during a match. Given her overall positive reputation, and specifically her experience with VAR while refereeing in Germany’s Bundesliga, her absence is one more blow to the public perception that led to Wednesday’s briefing in the first place.