"Outstanding performance" of Women's World Cup 2015

Bad officiating takes shine off FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015

The “outstanding performance” of the referees started early in this World Cup, already in the opening game. The Ukraine referee Kateryna Monzul made a controversial decision to award a late penalty that gave the lead to Canada’s 1-0 win over China.

The refereeing “good performance” remained throughout all group stage. In Thailand‘s 3-2 win over Ivory Coast, two missed offside calls led to two goals that sealed the African team’s fate.

Another team affected by refereeing mistakes at group stage was New Zealand. In the team’s first game, against the Netherlands, the referee did not award an absolutely clear penalty to the Football Ferns that prevented a possible tying goal.

During France‘s shock 2-0 defeat to Colombia in the Group stage, France were denied a clear penalty when the Colombian player used her hand to swipe the ball away from Eugenie Le Sommer’s head.

In New Zealand‘s last match, against China, the Football Ferns needed a win to advance past the group stage. But the referee awarded an incorrect penalty for a handball that didn’t actually happened. China netted the penalty, tying the game, which cost New Zealand the knockout stage. “Hand to ball or ball to hand?” This seems to have been a major issue to referees in Canada.

In the Quarter-finals, another penalty was awarded after a questionable handball. In the most highly anticipated match of the tournament, that was seen as an “early final”, the referee called a handball when an attempted cross struck the upper arm of a French defender. Celia Sasic converted and tied the match, which was clearly dominated by les Bleues. The equalizing goal allowed Germany to beat France in a penalty shootout and reach the World Cup semi-finals.

As Jess Fishlock tweeted, the “handball rule” was turning into a joke during Women’s World Cup. Maybe players should be armless as Aphrodite of Milos statue to make referees’s lives easier in the next Women’s World Cup edition!

Venus de Milo

For those unfamiliar with the “handball rule”, in FIFA’s Laws of the Game 2005, Law 12 declares that a free-kick or penalty will be awarded if a player “handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within her own penalty area)”.

After having benefited Germany in the quarterfinals, the bad refereeing cost for them dear against USA in the semi-finals. The match was tied and goalless when, in the 60th minute, Sasic missed a penalty kick. The penalty was awarded by Romanian referee Teodora Albon after Julie Johnston pulled down a German player in the box. The rule is clear, Johnston should have been red-carded and sent off. Instead, she received a yellow card and remained on the field.

Later in the match, Krahn brought down Alex Morgan in a foul that was clearly outside penalty box and Lloyd converted the penalty. Few minutes from the final whistle O’Hara scored a goal that wrecked Germany’s hopes. The United States was the best team in the game, this is fact, but what could have happened if they had been down to 10 players as they should have been and without that penalty call? After the poor decisions of the referee the doubt will remain.

Lastly, fans were also graced with a “marvelous” refereeing performance in the other semi-final match, after two penalties (that didn’t exist!) were awarded. First, the English defender Rafferty was punished for a foul outside of the penalty box and Miyama netted (Japan 1-0), then England tied, Fara Williams converted after captain Steph Houghton had taken a flop in the penalty area (1-1). We can not blame the referee for this match’s outcome which was to be decided by England’s unlucky last-minute own goal that gave Japan a spot in the final.

Video: Compilation of some of the questionable decisions:

In total, 22 referees, 49 assistant referees and 7 support referees have worked in Women’s World Cup in Canada. All of them are women (another good debate, should the officials be restricted to women only or should officials for the job be chosen on merit, regardless of gender?). Some of the officials at this tournament have been very good. But others have been committing really bad calls that could not only have changed the outcome of matches but also of the tournament.

To sum up, FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 edition has been marked by the clear development of women’s football in terms of strength, technique and skill but also by crass errors of the referees. So now it is time to claim the development of women’s refereeing in order that a bad refereeing does not take the brightness of a major tournament such as a Women’s World Cup.

  1. Christophe Huette 7 years ago

    Very good and much needed article. Not that anyone cares, but I stopped watching the World Cup altogether (including the final) out of sheer frustration from appalling refereeing after the Germany v France quarter final. Also, I haven’t seen it mentioned in the previous comments, so I’m adding it for the debate’s sake: lack of competence on the referees’ part was shocking during Canada 2015, but more shocking still was the lack of fitness of some referees. Here again, the France-Germany main referee springs to mind.

  2. Ken Suzuki 7 years ago

    Well, I still insist on letting machines REPLACE, rather than ASSIST, human referees. Machine is a thousand times more reliable to capture the players’ movement correctly. Of course machine can not decide if a certain player’s act was deliberate, But a human official can not do it either. Their difference is: a human is capable to have a self-deceiving illusion that she can read another person’s mind and end up making a very subjective judgment favoring one party over another. A computer, properly programmed, is impartial. If it makes mistakes it tends to make mistakes on everyone with equal probability.

    Let’s ask Google–the frontrunner of technology to take over humans.

  3. Gina West 7 years ago

    Agree @izzy and @Danwen – the technology could be used to assist the officials. The replays are pretty instant and the decision could be fed to the referee very quickly.

    Haha, I bet superman would struggle too!

    With regards to keeping all officials as female for the World Cup.
    I think the sentiment is a good one but at the same time I think I would rather the best person got the job based on their ability. The important thing in order to keep it all female officiating is to find ways to really develop and improve the standard.

    On a side note, I know in the men’s premier league in England there has been female official, and I believe the German referee also has officiated men’s games so there are some very talented women out there who have officiated under extreme pressure and at a high profile matches.

  4. Danwen Huang 7 years ago

    If the rules were not so ambiguous it would be possible to use technology but alas due to the nature of rules we have to have human decision making. I can see it improving if we had an official watching replays? But even then there can be mistakes.

    Being a ref is one hard job because every decision isn’t always so obvious and you don’t have playbacks that people get at home. But we need refs to ensure the safety of the players and to discourage foul play/rule breaking. So I say this job is like a double edged sword and people have superhuman expectations on you (I’d think superman would even have a hard time refereeing a football match xD).

  5. Ken Suzuki 7 years ago

    I share your frustration. I was a big fan of soccer (men’s game) in the 90s but my enthusiasm waned and eventually died as I saw too many crazy decisions were made by too many crazy officials. Then I paid no attention to this sport for more than a decade until in 2011 the Nadeshikos caught our eyes and hearts. But the disastrous situation I saw two decades ago still linger. The worst day in my entire career of following football came on August 17, 2014, when the referees (who, I strongly suspect, were in cahoots with INAC Kobe Leonessa) stole the title of the Nadeshiko League Regular Series from Urawa Reds Ladies, the most dedicated, fair-minded, and respectful Nadeshikos of all.

    However, I believe our bad days will come to an end before long because human referees are to be replaced by machines. We know FIFA installed goal detector device. But I believe a device like that is redundant because every game of every major tournament is filmed by multiple cameras. We can simply let computer inspect every image and make judgment. The latest image-processing technology can serve as a referee a thousand times more reliable than humans.

    Simplest of all judgments. Zero chance for computer to make wrong judgment.

    Very simple to decide if the ball touched anywhere of a player’s upper limb. To decide if the act was deliberate is a bit complicated, but certainly doable by examining the movement of the limb—approached, receded, or stood still.

    Technically most challenging judgment. The key is to examine the player’s movement and, particularly, its acceleration. If a player went down then her movement in the last second or two should be examined because the acceleration of movement must be distinctly different if the action was self-induced or caused by another player. Relatively gentle acceleration in the case of the former. Steep one in the case of the latter.

    In September, 2013, two researchers of Oxford University published an academic paper to discuss how easily a certain profession can be taken over by computer.


    At the end of the paper is the list of various professions stacked in order of difficulty to replace by machine. The profession of the highest rank “Recreational Therapists” is the most difficult to do by computer. As you go down the list you see professions easier to be done by computer. Now, see what comes almost at the bottom, the rank 684 of 700.

    “Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials”

    • Gina West 7 years ago

      I feel the same frustration, we want the outcome of the game to be decided by merit not by the officials. I believe if they had not installed goal-line technology there would have been a lot more wrong decisions that would have been game changing just like what happened at last year’s U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada.

      Just taking last night’s third place play-off match between Germany and England – the two managers were even laughing at the situation as it was so ridiculous, the game in regards to players shoving each other etc was starting to get out of hand.

      It is unfair for the officials, I believe they are not trained enough or they do not have enough experience at this high standard and this needs fixing. You can see in many of the games that some of the officials could not even physically keep up with the game never mind be in the correct position to be able to make a right decision.

      With regards to the men’s game, I too was put off by what it was becoming, but my main frustration was (especially at major tournaments) was the cynical behaviour in order to fool the ref into making a wrong decision. This in my opinion is not the official’s fault, and what I noticed at this world cup is that it is now creeping into the women’s game more and more and I think that technology will be a good way to put a stop to it.

      It’s all ok when it is not your team that is on the receiving end of it, it seems to be able to be ignored, and I know everyone wants to win, but do you really want to win in these circumstances?

      Like other sports that have welcomed technology, it would take very little time to review and feedback to the officials. I understand that this may not be viable for all decisions but for game changing ones like ‘was it a penalty?’, ‘was that player offside before scoring the goal?’ ‘did she make any contact with the player who went down;?, even the corner decisions – i noticed a lot of them were not given correctly.

      This is a very interesting debate as I heard a lot about it in the men’s game, people are defensive about the stopping the flow of the game, etc and that it would take away the ‘talking points’ from the match if all the decisions were correct and not debatable.

    • Author
      Izzy 7 years ago

      I don’t believe the solution is to replace the officials by technology. Also because we will need years and years to create a system that would replace the officials and, moreover, the machine cannot replace human … principally in matters of judgment of the players. But, I believe that technology should be used increasingly to assist the officials, in order to reduce errors, since often the man’s eyes are not as quick to capture an image as a computer.
      I believe we should use a system similar to what has been used in tennis and volleyball. They are using the “Challenge System” and now the Hawk-Eye technology enhancing the challenge system to make the sport more precise and more accurate.
      In volleyball, the chanllenge system process work like this:
      1) Video verification can be called upon team’s game captain request, however before the game has been resumed and directly after the rally which is a matter of doubt.
      2) Both teams have the right to call video verification for referees’ decision twice per set. If the result of video verification leads to decision change in favour of requesting team, it does not decrease the number for video verification calls available for this team in this set. On the other hand, if decision of referees was correct, it means that the number of video verification calls for this team in this set decreased by one.
      3) First referee himself has the right to ask for video verification in case he is in two minds and his call will finish the set / match.
      And more other rules… But imagine if in football work in a similar way! If the captain of a team could ask for video verification in case of a penalty, offside or handball.
      As the video verification do not lie and they have few opportunities to ask challenge, they will not use the request if they don’t have the absolute certainty that officials are wrong. The fourth official who would be in charge of watching the replay of the play and give the verdict …. as in volleyball.
      I follow volleyball for a while and I see this as a great evolution of the sport. It has worked wonderfully in major championships.
      Another debate that was asked in the text… should the officials be restricted to women only or should officials for the job be chosen on merit, regardless of gender?
      In my opinion, it should be restricted to women, but why? We see bad refereeing on both sides and how we want to develop women officials if neither in women’s championships is given the opportunity to them? I believe that the best way to solve this would be that in all female leagues and championships the officials be restricted to women only, in order to give them more experience and develop new women referees.
      For example, almost I don’t see women referees in NWSL! If officials composed only by women were mandatory in all leagues and championships, federations and leagues would be required to train new women referees.

      • Danwen Huang 7 years ago

        The NWSL also has some odd decisions here and there, probably why we don’t ever see enough refs in the hall of frame more in the hall of shame. I wish we can be more like volleyball actually, have the fourth official viewing live replays would be so much better. Is just like with goalline technology, the watch vibrates if it’s a penalty etc.

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