Women’s World Cup referees are undergoing training with VARs in matches over the next two weeks, The Associated Press has learned, paving the way for the FIFA council to approve the use of video reviews at the tournament in France.
FIFA has faced criticism for not committing to using video assistant referees at the June 7-July 7 Women's World Cup just as they were for the men's tournament for the first time in Russia last year.
Amid growing demands for clarity on the deployment of VAR, United States women’s team coach Jill Ellis said it would be “insulting” if female players didn’t have an equal right to have decisions reviewed by video at their biggest tournament. England counterpart Phil Neville has also criticized the standard of refereeing in the women’s game and the lack of technology which could reduce mistakes.
FIFA only gave the first indication on Monday that it does plan to use the technology in France after the AP discovered previously undisclosed training with VARs was taking place in seminars and matches in Qatar. It ensures the 27 referees and 47 assistant referees will gain the necessary experience that allows FIFA executives at a meeting in Miami in March to approve the use of the technology for the World Cup.
"The final decision if VAR will be used at the Women's World Cup will be taken by the FIFA council," FIFA told The Associated Press on Monday. The governing body had previously only said a decision about VAR would come "in due time."
FIFA is now ramping up testing with VAR as referees preside over matches with the assistance of technology at the Al Kass International Cup for men's under-17 teams, including Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, from Monday through Feb. 15 at Qatar's Aspire Academy.
"It's similar to the men's preparation," FIFA said in a statement to the AP after being asked about the gathering of Women's World Cup referees in Doha. "To have the best preparation the referees will have VAR training and in addition to that they will officiate games of the Al Kass Cup."
It is a rare deployment of female referees at men's games. Uruguayan official Claudia Umpierrez made the first VAR call of the tournament near Doha to disallow a goal for offside in a game involving Aspire and Moroccan side Raja Club Athletic on Monday evening.
"They have a competition, real matches and that's is the best way to practice," FIFA said. "VAR is only a part of their preparation. All other refereeing aspects like reading the game, uniformity and consistency in their decisions, positioning etc., are also crucial for their performances."
While the Women's World Cup referees and their assistants are women, most of the VARs are men, with some having gained experienced at the World Cup in Russia. No domestic women's competition currently uses VAR.
When FIFA in December announced the appointment of referees for the Women's World Cup, there was no mention of VAR.
FIFA appears to be operating on the same timescale to last year when VAR for the men's World Cup was officially approved at a council meeting in March.
The video review calls in Russia were made from FIFA's International Broadcast Center near Moscow. VARs, four to a game, sat with monitor operators trained to find the best camera angles before feeding decisions back to referees on the pitch in stadiums. Referees can also check replays themselves on pitch-side monitors.
Video review can help referees overturn clear errors in game-changing situations. This means incidents involving goals scored, the award of penalty kicks, red cards, and cases of referees showing cards to the wrong player.