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Absence of VAR: The Negative Impact on the UWCL

By Manal Rashid

The Union of European Football Association’s Women’s Champions League has just begun its 2023-2024 season. The UEFA created this competition in 2001, which allows fans to watch various European clubs compete against each other. The start of the upcoming season has brought attention to certain complications seen in the league. Discussions have emerged amongst fans on the absence of video assistant referee in the group stages, which many believe is due to the lack of investment in women’s soccer. However, there has been ongoing discourse around the Champions League since the qualification, as many fans will not get to see their favorite clubs play. 

Source by Suha Tasfia

Many sports fans have noticed continued inequities between men's and women's professional sports.

The UWCL consists of qualifying rounds, the group stage and the knockout phase, which consists of the quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final. The group stage consists of 16 teams from top European leagues divided into four groups, where the top two teams from each group make it to the knockout phase. The clubs will play two games, one home and one away, in the quarterfinals and semifinals. Lastly, the final is a single game that occurs in a neutral stadium. 

For entry into this year’s competition, Paris Saint-German ended Manchester United’s debut in the tournament during the qualifying rounds. Moreover, the surprising story for many was of Paris FC, who defeated last season’s semi-finalist Arsenal and finalist Wolfsburg, preventing them from participating in the competition. Some believe that the elimination of top teams might impact viewership and sponsors for the game since companies tend to be associated with global brands rather than lesser-known teams. Manchester United manager Marc Skinner stated, “There are teams that are going through that are not good enough. It’s crazy that we have to play PSG at this level. I hope something is changed because we want the best teams in the Champions League, not just a spread of some average teams.” 

"Continued investment in women’s soccer infrastructure and support could contribute to overall progress..."

Others are upset because they believe the qualification process highlights the disparity between men’s and women’s soccer. In the men’s Champions League, 24 teams automatically qualify, compared to four in the women’s game due to which the men’s tournament has twice the amount of teams and groups compared to the UWCL. Many argue that this disparity is due to the lack of revenue generated in the women’s game, while others think it is due to the lack of investment. 

“The difference in the number of automatic qualifiers between the men’s and women’s Champions League does highlight a potential disparity,” senior Alexa Stec said. “To improve it, increasing the number of automatic qualifiers for the women’s game could promote fairness and further development. Additionally, continued investment in women’s soccer infrastructure and support could contribute to overall progress and competitiveness.”

As the tournament unfolded, debates sparked over the lack of VAR in the group stages. One game that caught much attention was Chelsea vs. Real Madrid. For most of the game, many presumed Chelsea would win 2-1 until Jessie Fleming challenged Athenea del Castillo near the box and gave Real Madrid a penalty, which they converted to make the score line 2-2. From there on, tensions rose as players and fans argued that the tackle was outside the box. Towards the end of the game, the Blues thought they had won by a last-minute goal by Niamh Charles, but the officials ruled it as offside, and fans disagreed. “We’ve been robbed of what should have been a 3-1 game,” said Chelsea manager Emma Hays. However, Real Madrid’s manager, Alberto Toril, said he was pleased with the performance. The Chelsea vs. Real Madrid game is not the only time fans have called for VAR in women’s soccer, as continuous refereeing mistakes in the Women’s Nations League and Women’s Super League have caused much conversation. 

"Sometimes the decisions are not the right ones..."

Barcelona players, the winners of last season’s UWCL, supported implementing VAR in the games. Barça winger Caroline Graham Hansen said VAR should be used in the UWCL “from the minute one when the group stage starts.” She continues, “Every year we are doing things to improve [the game], but it’s clear that it should be utilized in the group phase as well as the knockouts…the games are intense, there are a lot of decisive situations…I think everyone just wants games to end with the result as it should end.” 

VAR does not guarantee the removal of controversial decisions in the game, but it has become a label for playing in an elite match in women’s soccer. Most men’s soccer games consist of VAR, but it still remains a rare sight in women’s soccer. While fans and players call for VAR, others believe the money could be spent on on-field officials since it is still debated whether the technology has impacted soccer for better or worse.

“I think VAR and the changes in refereeing have received more backlash recently, and I agree with the comments made. This is due to many decisions being input to the central referee on the field from the other VAR officials,” senior Nicco Prada said. “The decisions are delaying too much time from the game, and sometimes the decisions are not the right ones.” 

UEFA plans to change the format of the Champions League in the 2025-26 season, consisting of 18 teams that will play three home and three away, followed by the knockout phase. Fans and players hope this new format will strive towards more inclusivity in soccer. 


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