Referees in women’s football deserve support, not criticism ahead of the World Cup

In June 2019, the Women’s World Cup will descend on France, but, unless FIFA make a late announcement to suggest otherwise, the eternally controversial VAR might not feature.

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VAR’s role at the World Cup, whether it is used or not, should have been one of the discussion points in the lead up to the tournament.

However, following England’s 1-1 draw in a friendly against a below-strength Australia side at Craven Cottage, valid questions about VAR will take a back seat as the quality of refereeing in the women’s game comes under the spotlight again.

On Tuesday night, England controversially had two penalty appeals denied and one goal disallowed.

It was Nikita Parris’ penalty claim which was seemingly the most contentious of the three incidents. Caitlin Foord brought down the Manchester City winger as she burst into the box, but there was enough doubt in referee Florence Guillemin’s mind not to award what is commonly seen as a foul.

Beth Mead’s appeal was the very definition of that old football cliché, the ‘stone wall penalty’, as she was sandwiched between two Matildas defenders after showing quick feet to shift the ball out of their reach.

These decisions were only compounded by Lucy Staniforth’s disallowed goal after the lineswoman – far from level with play – deemed her offside after Fran Kirby played her through.

Craven Cottage is not the only venue that has played host to come questionable officiating. Last week, in the Lionesses fixture against Brazil, multiple decisions from one lineswoman were incorrect as she gave goal kicks where the ball had clearly come off a defender.

In spite of the injustice of those calls, this isn’t the time to take a pop at the individual officials and Phil Neville did well to make that clear in his post-match interview on Tuesday.

The England manager was clearly frustrated at conceding late against Australia, but he made an important point by highlighting the wider problems with refereeing in women’s football.

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It makes for shocking reading to learn that FIFA has no data on how many female referees are presently professional.

It is the responsibility of the host nation to employ and hire officials for friendly matches. If, as a top-ranked international side, England have seemingly been unable to find an adequately prepared referee then what hope do smaller nations have?

In all other areas on and off the pitch, the women’s game is catching up. Next summer’s World Cup should be the biggest yet for women’s football with more media interest than ever and growing engagement from fans year on year.

Unlike in Canada in 2015, all matches should finally be played on grass rather than artificial turf, goal line technology will be in place and more players and staff than ever will be full-time professionals.

Throw VAR and the prospect of a Panini sticker book into the mix and in every way things have improved in women’s football.

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Bearing in mind the awful reports of abuse in grassroots football, it takes a lot of bravery to be a match official and it takes even more to make big calls in front of thousands of fans and the glare of TV cameras.

It is only right that female officials are given the support to have the chance to perform to the best of their ability.

Standards won’t change overnight, but they definitely won’t improve if referees are left by the wayside as the rest of the game pushes on.

You can follow Nancy on Twitter @NancyFrostick

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