SOCCER

The Impact of Instant Replays and How It’s Changing the Women’s World Cup

VAR has been implemented at the Women’s World Cup for the first time changing how the games are played.

Courtesy of Claude Paris AP

Instant replay has been a hot topic in sports since its inception. Critics claim that it takes away from the purity of the game and supporters defend that it takes away human error. The NFL has been using instant replay for officials since 1985 tweaking it here and there as they go. The NFL still has critics saying the calls aren’t right even with review and plays that aren’t reviewable, need to be. The most impactful as of late is the missed pass interference call in the 2019 NFC Championship game. The NFL heard the complaints and announced recently allowing review of pass interference in games. Instant replay seems to be growing and changing in every league, even expanding outside the United States.

FIFA decided that the positives of instant replay outweighed the negatives. They announced in March that the Women’s World Cup would utilize VAR (Video Assistant Referee) for the first time. However, no lead up games for any of the teams had experimented with using VAR. Teams have been learning to adjust from the first game since VAR does disrupt the fluidity of play. Soccer, known for its running clock, now has times in the game when VAR is implemented and play can be stopped for a few minutes. The head referee can have a play checked where the VAR team in a video operation room will look at the play and discuss with the referee on the field or the referee can signal the use of the referee review area where the referee reviews the play further. The only plays that can be reviewed are mistaken identity of a player, straight red cards, the lead up to goals and penalties. The most controversial calls in soccer now are looked at further, but is it helping the game and are the right calls being made?

So far 19 games have been played in the World Cup and eight of them have been directly impacted by VAR. Some games have had multiple VAR calls including yesterday’s Brazil vs Australia game. The game itself may have been the most exciting game in the tournament. Brazil went up 2-0 over Australia early on. People were starting to label Australia as overrated since they’re the sixth-ranked team in the world and on the verge of their second loss in the tournament. But in stoppage time of the first half Australia netted a goal going into halftime down just 2-1. They carried that momentum and scored two more goals in the second half to win the game 3-2. But the scoreline does not tell the whole story of the game

In the 20th minute of the match, Australia had a possible penalty kick. Tameka Yallop was taken down inside the offensive box by a Brazilian player. The Aussies thought they had an obvious penalty, but Brazil had their own argument in the play. Just before Yallop was taken to the ground a ball had knocked around and hit her arm which would be a handball. The referee stopped the game and used VAR, a two-minute delay that resulted in a hand ball being called and no penalty for Australia. Then just four minutes later Brazil was in its offensive box and as an Australian defender fell to the ground she briefly grabbed Leticia Santos of Brazil and they went down together. The referee signaled for a penalty and Australia immediately started arguing their case. Did the Brazilian player exaggerate the fall to get the call, the Australians definitely thought so. The referee briefly consulted the officials in the video operation room and they confirmed the penalty. Brazil converted and were leading 1-0.

Fast forward to the 66th minute of the game, the score is tied and Australia is in the attack. A ball gets sent into the Australian offensive box intended for Sam Kerr, but Mônica of Brazil got to it first and headed it, but unfortunately, it went into her own goal. Australia erupted thinking they were now up 3-2, mounting an impressive comeback. But the play went under review because Kerr appeared to be offside which would nullify the goal. The referee went to VAR again to try and make sure the call was right, it once again took two minutes of time. The referee was trying to decide if Kerr was involved in the play because in soccer just because you are in an offside position does not mean it will be called ,the offside player has to impact the play in some way. People were arguing that since the defender was next to Kerr offside would need to be called. The referee came back after looking at the play and ruled it a goal deeming Kerr was not a part of the play. Australia went on to win the game 3-2.

Without VAR the game could have ended very differently and even with a different referee reviewing the VAR the game could be different. Human error and personal interpretation are in everything we do. We try to create technology to try and make it as fair as possible but in the end, there are still varying opinions. People think VAR has made players change the way they play the game, knowing the referees can review any play that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. Defenders have to hide their arms and be extra cautious when defending. VAR is changing the game, but possibly too much.

Technology is impacting sports directly and the Women’s World Cup is no exception. As this tournament carries on there is no doubt VAR will be used and drastically change the outcome of games. Is it fair and are the calls right? There’s no clear answers to these questions, but hopefully the more we talk about it the more they’ll improve the technology to get the calls correct.

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