Rethink on new penalty law midway through is massive own goal by Fifa | Suzanne Wrack
Fifa is panicking. The approval by the International Football Association Board, at Fifa’s request, of a temporary suspension at shootouts of the new law that states goalkeepers must be booked for coming off their line before a penalty means tinkering with the laws in the middle of the most influential World Cup in women’s football history.
Perhaps Fifa making a change, albeit a minor one, reflects the increased power of a sport which is so often marginalised. When players and associations spent two years lobbying against the 2015 Canada World Cup being hosted on artificial turf, their protestations fell on deaf ears. Except that these new laws were untested. The Women’s World Cup is still Fifa’s guinea pig, something it can use to benefit and develop the men’s game.
The most controversial new law states: “The goalkeeper must have at least part of one foot on/in line with the goal line when the kick is taken; cannot stand behind the line.”
The rationale states: “Allowing the goalkeeper to have only one foot touching the goal line (or, if jumping, in line with the goal line) when the penalty kick is taken is a more practical approach as it is easier to identify if both feet are not on the line. As the kicker can ‘stutter’ in the run, it is reasonable that the goalkeeper can take one step in anticipation of the kick.”
In theory, this is a relaxing of the law. Previously, both feet had to remain on the line. It is designed to benefit the goalkeepers, to make their life easier. Except the implementation of the original law was fairly slapdash. Goalkeepers did not step up in fear of being punished for minor infractions; there was a degree of subjectivity.
VAR has changed that. It was brought to the Women’s World Cup late, after its use at the men’s World Cup in Russia prompted disquiet about its potential absence in France. Three yellow cards, plus a retake, were issued to goalkeepers for not having a foot on the line in the group stage and there was a fear, should knockout games go to penalties, that we could have seen endless retakes and under-prepared goalkeepers sent off for repeated errors. There remains scope, though, for further harsh bookings in 90 or 120 minutes.
Announced on 2 March and implemented from 1 June, goalkeepers and coaches have had little time to adjust what is, ultimately, an instinctive process. In the immediate aftermath of Lee Alexander’s save from Florencia Bonsegundo of Argentina in added time being undone by VAR, with the game balanced at 3-2 in Scotland’s favour, the Manchester United goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain tweeted: “I understand this new penalty rule but it seems ridiculously harsh on goalkeepers! You have to have forward motion to stop you diving into the post. She was an inch off her line … A penalty is already massively weighted in favour of the attacker! Do they need more?!?”
Hope Solo, who kept goal for the USA throughout their World Cup-winning campaign in 2015 and is a Guardian columnist during this tournament, believes being closer to the penalty-taker reduces reaction time. She tweeted: “A GK inching off their line before the kick doesn’t help, and it hurts the spirit of the game when VAR calls back penalties and keepers get cards in these scenarios. If a shooter misses, they shouldn’t get a freebie simply because a GK moved slightly forward.”
Alexander breached the letter of the law. As did Nigeria’s Chiamaka Nnadozie when France’s Wendie Renard struck her spot-kick against the outside of a post. It is impossible to argue they did not breach the laws.
As a test, it has worked and it has been reported in the Times that the Premier League is already distancing itself from allowing VAR to rule on the position of goalkeepers during penalties, putting it at odds with Ifab.
Removing all subjectivity is, in theory, a nice idea but in practice less so. We all want the game to be fair. But VAR was introduced to spot a “clear and obvious error”. A goalkeeper a centimetre over the line is not a player trying to gain an unfair advantage, or having one, and there is also the question of outfielders’ encroachment at penalties going unpunished; replays showed Renard’s successful kick should have been retaken, too.
No one is against rules that make the game fairer, but experiments are usually conducted in lower leagues or at age-group level. Testing them on the biggest stage in women’s football? Own goal Fifa.