PARIS — There were no Women’s World Cup matches Wednesday, but over almost 90 minutes in an auditorium tucked inside Parc des Princes, three defenders were hard at work.
They were not players but FIFA officiating figures — all former referees themselves — responding to questions and criticism about the video replay system, which has been at the center of controversy in several matches.
Though they acknowledge the introduction of technology will not eliminate all mistakes, they defended the decisions made with help from the video assistant referee, or VAR, a review process introduced to soccer in 2018 and in use in a women’s world competition for the first time.
VAR has spotted players offside on goal-scoring sequences and overruled offside calls that had incorrectly disallowed goals. It has helped confirm the awarding of penalty kicks and put a fresh set of eyes on red-card infractions.
In that sense, VAR is working exactly as designed.
“We cannot make everything perfect,” said Italy’s Pierluigi Collina, perhaps the most famous referee of modern times who is now chairman of FIFA’s referee committee. “So if we have something that can save you … a parachute that gives you a second chance, no one cares if a wrong decision was corrected by the VAR.”
Said Kari Seitz, an American who is FIFA’s senior manager of refereeing, “Football has wanted us to be more accurate.”
No doubt, it is. Egregious errors affecting the outcome of matches typically decided by one goal are far less frequent.
The FIFA group said that through 44 matches the officiating crews, with help from VAR, have been correct on 98.2 percent of their calls. Without VAR assistance, it’s 92.5 percent. (VAR is only used for goal-scoring plays, red cards, penalty-kick decisions and cases of mistaken identity.)
Through the round of 16, the video assistant referees have checked 441 sequences, resulting in 29 video reviews. Of those, 25 calls were reversed.
“The VAR cannot be blind, cannot ignore,” Collina said. “If you have the tool that offers you the possibility to check, you have to check.”
There also has been an uproar among fans and observers during the tournament about the application of VAR decisions: a Cameroon player’s heel was offside as she ran back upfield, nullifying a subsequent goal; several goalkeepers were flagged for taking their foot off the goal line a split-second before a penalty-kick attempt; and light contact in the box appeared more egregious when viewed in super-slow motion.
Collina defended the fact-based rulings, in which cameras are able to determine whether a ball was out of bounds or a player was offside.
“If we have a tool that can show clearly, without any doubt, there is an offside position, it doesn’t matter if it’s two centimeters or 20 meters,” Collina said. “There is not a small or big offside. There is an offside.”
U.S. Coach Jill Ellis agreed, saying recently: “Why have a rule if you’re not going to enforce it? You can’t half-measure a rule; the rule is the rule. There is too much at stake not to have it in our sport.”
Same goes, Collina said, with the goalkeepers on penalty kicks. This used to be a rarely enforced infraction, but with video replay available, keepers cannot get away with as much as they used to.
Players, coaches and fans had been accustomed to early movement by the goalkeeper not resulting in a retake if the initial attempt failed.
“When you are driving and you see a radar,” Collina said, “you think the radar is not working. So you keep your speed. And suddenly you get a ticket. What do you think: It’s wrong with the law or you were wrong? The law exists to be enforced.”
But there are also situations in which a referee’s interpretation of what he or she sees on a sideline video monitor is subjective. This has occurred in awarding penalty kicks.
The United States benefited from two such fouls — neither was egregious — during a 2-1 victory over Spain in the round of 16. Only the second one prompted a sideline review.
On the go-ahead sequence in the 75th minute, the referee ruled Rose Lavelle had been fouled in the box. The video assistant referee recommended the referee take a closer look on video. She did, and the call remained the same.
“You can still have discussion about interpretation — this is part of our sport,” Collina said. “Not all the decisions are black or white or extreme.”
Massimo Bussaca, head of FIFA’s refereeing department, was less diplomatic than his colleagues.
“Tell me which team in this World Cup was perfect until now? Which team? And how many hours do they spend to prepare themselves? No one is perfect. We are trying to do our best to reduce mistakes. … Mistakes are part of sports, and we have to accept it. We’re not perfect. What’s the problem? What’s wrong? It’s impossible.”
Bussaca then singled out Australian star Sam Kerr, who had missed a penalty kick during a shootout defeat.
“This is part of the thinking that VAR should be something perfect, but it can never be. Sam Kerr is a great player. You agree with me?”
The other complaint about VAR is the amount of time taken to review plays, interrupting a sport that prides itself on continuous play. Collina said the lost time is added onto the end anyway, but that misses the point: The flow is interrupted. He claimed delays caused by NBA video reviews don’t bother anyone. Oh, really?
The number of stoppages has increased since the 2018 World Cup for men in Russia: 20 in 64 matches last summer, 29 in 44 this summer.
The fear among many is that it will only get worse.
“We have to think about where is the fine line for us,” Seitz said. “Right now, we are following a very clear protocol and we’re trying to answer the question football wants, which is to be as accurate as possible to do what’s right for the game.”