Does the W-League need VAR?

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The introduction of the VAR to the A-League brought with it strong connotations of objectivity and impartiality. Yet VAR’s absence in the W-League leaves room for us to question how fair we want women’s football to be.

It is easy to say that VAR is a lose-lose situation. Its introduction to the A-League was not without controversy, so there is no guarantee its implementation in the W-League would be unproblematic.

Yet, no good decisions have ever come out of indifference.

Missing in action in the W-League the best examples I could draw on was the 2019 World Cup when the VAR was introduced, albeit late, to the women’s football matches.

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VAR was meant to place the focus back on all the amazing aspects of women’s football.

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Instead, VAR became so heavily intertwined into the fabric of each match that it ultimately became the main character in a story no one wanted to read. One that left the players, coaches and audience members pulling at their hair in frustration.

The Spain vs United States match met all types of undesirable criticism when referee Katalin Kulcsar, awarded the United States a penalty after midfielder Rose Lavelle was tripped, but VAR intervened when it should have stayed quiet.

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VAR should have only been used in a case where the referee made a clear and obvious error. Kulcsar instead went to watch the replay and decided to stick to her guns and original call.

Not surprisingly Spain players, and their supporters were furious that six minutes were wasted over a divided interpretation over whether it was truly a penalty.

But controversy follows VAR around like a bad smell and its absence in the W-League has done more harm than good, exemplified at Bankwest Stadium when the Western Sydney Wanderers played against the Newcastle Jets.

Lynn Williams found the back of the net during a contest in the 31st minute, yet her strike was incorrectly ruled out for offside.

Replays showed, however, that the American forward was onside when the ball was played. Had VAR been implemented the misjudgement could have been corrected and the goal would stand.

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However, the system still remains a boys-only toy with no clear decision made on whether it will be implemented in the W-League.

Despite its obvious setbacks, the game, passion and drive at the W-League is at the same level as it is in the A-League. Not granting women’s matches with the same opportunity limits how important W-League games are viewed.

A strain of argument has followed this debate saying that equal pay for male and female footballers is a more important discussion to have. And it is, but there have been steps in the right direction to make wages between Australian footballers level.

VAR may seem like a system that brings about more pain than success, but for both leagues to be viewed as equal implementing the same reviewing system is a good start.

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Suzanna Telai
Football enthusiast and student journalist, covering Western United for the 2019/20 A-League season