FIFA Recommends Use of Video Review at Women’s World Cup

The organizing committee of FIFA announced Monday that it would recommend the use of video assistant referee technology at the Women’s World Cup this summer, bringing refereeing advances introduced at the men’s World Cup in Russia last year to soccer’s most important women’s championship for the first time. The decision, which is expected to be approved by the governing FIFA Council when it meets later this month in Miami, is a victory for women’s soccer players, coaches and fans who have highlighted gender equality issues in the international game.

The technology, known by the acronym V.A.R., allows the on-field referee to consult with a colleague viewing video replays to help confirm, or overturn, close calls in a narrow set of instances. It was fully implemented for the first time at a major FIFA tournament last summer at the men’s World Cup, where FIFA hailed its introduction as a rousing success.

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But as the 2019 Women’s World Cup came into view, FIFA repeatedly declined to confirm whether V.A.R. would be at that competition as well, turning the issue into another flash point — alongside artificial turf fields and unequal compensation and bonuses — in the broader gender equity debate in soccer.

On the V.A.R. point, at least, the debate seems finally to be settled.

Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA, said last weekend that he supported the use of the technology at the women’s event in June, stating that it was proving effective at discouraging the type of diving and playacting that often plague major soccer tournaments.

“Players now know that it’s not just sufficient to have a look where is the referee, so if he doesn’t see me I can simulate, because he or she will be caught,” Infantino said, according to The Associated Press. “That’s why V.A.R. automatically helps the fight against simulation and diving in a very efficient way.”

Referees for the Women’s World Cup began training with the video technology this winter at a series of seminars in Abu Dhabi and Doha. FIFA later said some had been introduced to the technology as early as 2016.

Still, as this summer’s tournament in France approached, questions lingered about whether there would be enough time to get all of the untrained officials up to speed and comfortable with the protocols. FIFA on Monday said their progress had been satisfactory.

“Based on the thorough work carried out over the past few months, FIFA is happy with the steps taken and the excellent job done by FIFA’s refereeing team and the female referees involved,” Zvonimir Boban, the deputy secretary general of FIFA, said in a statement. “We are confident about proposing the use of V.A.R. in France to the FIFA Council, as we are very positive about its implementation.”

V.A.R. technology is quickly becoming an indispensable, if still sometimes controversial, presence at the top men’s competitions in the world. Many leagues and competitions — from Major League Soccer in the United States to Germany’s Bundesliga and England’s F.A. Cup — already use the system. European soccer officials announced in December that they would introduce it for the knockout rounds of this year’s Champions League, the world’s richest club competition.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, United States Coach Jill Ellis said she felt it was “hugely important” that the use of V.A.R. in the women’s game kept pace with its spread on the men’s side.

“First and foremost, we’ve got to fight for what’s going to help the game,” she said. “You can just see the benefit of it. It’s proven.”

Becky Sauerbrunn, a longtime defender for the United States team, and a member of its 2015 Women’s World Cup champions, said that while the V.A.R. issue was far from the most pressing gender equality issue in international soccer, it symbolized the many little ways that FIFA can make the women’s game feel like an afterthought.

For her, its use was just a matter of common sense.

“For me it’s, why not?” Sauerbrunn said. “Why not give it to the women if you give it to the men?”

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