Officials disrupting the flow of the Women's World Cup with inconsistency

Eoin O’Callaghan
·Eoin O’Callaghan
Officials disrupting the flow of the Women's World Cup with inconsistency

Should we be worried? Probably. Across two semi-finals at this tournament, four penalties were awarded. In each incident, wrong refereeing decisions were made.

There has been a steady narrative throughout this knockout stage. Big calls have resulted in errors by the officials but outside of some brief mentions across various media outlets, it hasn't become a big story.

It seems like not many people want to talk about it. Even coaches, inexplicably, have distanced themselves from criticizing the referees. At times, sure, it makes sense. No one wants to repeatedly venture down the path of well-worn cliche and blame a defeat on the performance of a match official. Still, the lack of dissent has been strange given the high-profile nature of the games and the clear-cut nature of the decisions.

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 26: Referee Carol Anne Chenard signals a yellow card to Laura Georges #4 of France during the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015 quarter final match between Germany and France at Olympic Stadium on June 26, 2015 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 26: Referee Carol Anne Chenard signals a yellow card to Laura Georges #4 of France during the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015 quarter final match between Germany and France at Olympic Stadium on June 26, 2015 in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)

Things seemed to get derailed in the quarter-finals. I was in Montreal to watch Germany's clash with France, a game that Canadian Carol Anne Chenard took charge of. There were small things that antagonized. There was the finicky way she didn't let the game flow - bringing the ball back for a free-kick to be taken instead of allowing advantage to be played. She penalized strong, solid and textbook challenges. In a wider context, maybe that's not much. But the smaller details normally lead to patterns being formed and Chenard was a good example of that. I had seen her struggle through a group-stage game involving Brazil and Spain earlier in the competition while she had endured another difficult assignment soon after when England faced Colombia.

And that night in Montreal, the minor elements did eventually lead to something major. In the first-half, there was a German handball in the area. The player's arm was in an un-natural position, extended away from the body. But there was no penalty call.

Inside the last ten minutes of the game, French defender Amel Majri went to close down a long-range strike and the ball hit the top of her left arm, which was purposely held down by her side. Chenard, who seemed in an excellent position, blew her whistle and pointed to the spot. Penalty for Germany. They scored, they forced extra-time and won in the shootout. But it was the first real sign that inconsistency was beginning to creep into referees' decision-making.

After the game, French coach Philippe Bergeroo said that his side could only blame themselves for the result and refused to discuss the penalty decisions. It was odd. But, inevitably the headlines were dominated by Claire Lavogez and her decisive kick being saved by Nadine Angerer. The officials survived a lashing. And they've managed to do likewise since.

What happened during the semi-finals is well-known. But after the high-octane, high-profile battle between the USA and Germany, Silvia Neid, the German coach, had to be pressed for her assessment of the referee decisions that had probably cost her side the game and a place in the decider. She seemed annoyed to have to comment though subsequently sighed her way through an honest summation: (1) the rules state Julie Johnson (who gave away the US penalty) should've received a red card and she didn't. (2) The foul that led to the US being awarded a penalty clearly took place outside the area. But that was as much as Neid spoke about the subject. 'I cannot change the decisions', she said through a translator: seemingly the official line of every coach at this tournament who have been on the wrong end of a bad call.

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 30:  Head coach Silvia Neid of Germany reacts prior to the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 Semi-Final Match at Olympic Stadium on June 30, 2015 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Bongarts/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 30: Head coach Silvia Neid of Germany reacts prior to the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 Semi-Final Match at Olympic Stadium on June 30, 2015 in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Bongarts/Getty Images)

So, why is there a reluctance to criticize? Why doesn't anyone want to talk? This isn't about scapegoating. It's about performances and progress. There is an elephant in the room when it comes to the Women's World Cup and that's the overly-patronizing tone to much of the coverage. There is plenty of fulsome praise but little in the way of criticism. There seems a mistrust of being hard on anyone involved, that when players or officials make mistakes, that it's best to simply ignore and move on. That it's best to, above all else, stay positive.

There is an element of inequality to all of this. These elite players and these elite officials should have the same as anyone else. And with the good comes the bad. With the big tournaments and the mightily-impressive television ratings, there comes the spotlight. And that brings challenges as well as opportunities. And it's all part of getting bigger. Things get more serious and there are more questions to answer. More conversations to be had.

It's all positive. It's all growth and opportunity. But we don't need to be so suspicious or wary of rocking the boat. When people criticize, it's because they care enough to do so. They care about what happens in these games. And it's the caring that fuels development. It's the caring that we want.

The referee for Sunday's final is Kateryna Monzul who took charge of the opening game of the tournament – Canada's 1-0 victory over China. It was marred by a last-gasp penalty that Christine Sinclair stroked home. But the decision to award it was the right one. And maybe that's an encouraging sign.