Should there be a rethink about football’s new penalty laws?

14th September 2021


The introduction of the video-assisted referee or VAR has been one of the biggest changes in football for some time. Whilst many commentators welcomed the introduction of the technology at the 2018 World Cup, the Women’s World Cup has had a much tougher time with VAR.

This is because the technology has been used to implement new rules that aim to stop goalkeepers from moving both feet off their line to save a penalty. After the group stages of the Women’s World Cup, there have been numerous victims of the law that many people view as being too severe.

So far the Premier League has already shown itself to be unwilling to implement the new penalty rules into the 2019/20 season, and it remains to be seen whether the International Football Association Board will have to rethink how the new laws are introduced.

What are the new penalty laws?


The new laws state that goalkeepers must keep at least part of one foot on their goal-line when attempting to save a penalty. This aims to stop goalkeepers rushing towards the penalty-taker to gain an unfair advantage, but it also prohibits the keeper from standing behind the line.

Interestingly, this is actually a relaxation of the penalty laws. Previously, goalkeepers had to keep both feet on the line. But now keepers can take one step forward, or even jump in the air as long as they are in line with the goal-line.

If a goalkeeper has been seen to have broken the rules, then the penalty will be retaken. In addition to this, a keeper will be given a yellow card if they have been deemed to have moved off their line during the course of a penalty.

How the penalty laws have been introduced to the Women’s World Cup


The new penalty laws were announced by the International Football Association Board on 2 March 2019, and they were implemented on 1 June 2019. The Women’s World Cup was the first major football tournament to feature the new rules, and the competition also introduced the video-assistant referee to help monitor these laws and oversee the rest of the game.

There were plenty of warnings that the 2019 Women’s World Cup’s goalkeepers and coaches had relatively little time to get to grips with the new penalty rules. By the time that the group stages had concluded, there had already been plenty of controversy about how the penalty laws were been implemented.

Jamaica vs Italy

The Jamaica versus Italy game on 14 June was the first match to see the new law in action. This saw Italy scoring their first goal of the Women’s World Cup after Cristiana Girell was allowed to retake her penalty. Despite Sydney Schneider saving the first penalty attempt, VAR proved that Jamaica’s keeper had prematurely moved off her line.

Nigeria vs France

On 17 June Nigeria managed to put up an excellent fight against France for much of the game. However, the host nation were awarded a penalty towards the end of the match, and Wendie Renard put her effort wide of the goal. But thanks to the use of VAR technology it was proved that Nigeria’s keeper, Chiamaka Nnadozie, had moved off her line early and Renard managed to score the retake.

Argentina vs Scotland

The biggest controversy surrounding the new penalty rules came when Argentina played Scotland on 19 June. Argentina had managed to nearly claw back a three-goal deficit and looked like they were going to equalise when an injury time penalty was awarded. When Lee Alexander saved the penalty, it looked like Scotland had won the game and might make it through to the round of 16. But upon VAR review, it was revealed that Scotland’s keeper was off her line, the penalty was successfully retaken and Scotland were denied their place in the knock-out rounds.

Criticisms of the new penalty laws


Any new football rule always attracts plenty of controversy. The main reason why people believe the new penalty laws have gone too far is the fact that it puts the goalkeeper at a massive disadvantage.

The laws were still untested when the 2019 Women’s World Cup kicked off, and it quickly came to be seen as being too harsh on keepers. Many have claimed that a goalkeeper will have to make a forward motion in order to avoid diving into the post. Plus there are questions as to whether being a centimetre over the goal-line really constitutes a truly unfair advantage over the penalty taker.

Above all, it’s the fact that the use of VAR negatively affects the spirit of the game that is the biggest talking point. Especially as there are fears that the technology could cause a potentially endless penalty shootout.

The Premier League hesitant to use VAR for keeper encroachment in the new season


Many people have criticised the fact that the 2019 Women’s World Cup was used as a guinea pig for the new penalty law, and it’s been interesting to see that many organisations are already distancing themselves from using the video-assisted referee in combination with the rule.

In particular, the Premier League has already stated that it will not use VAR to judge keeper’s goal-line movements during penalties in the 2019-20 season. Instead, on-field officials will examine whether goalkeepers have moved off their line during the course of a penalty.

This August will mark the first time that VAR will be used in the Premier League, although the Scottish Premiership has proven to be reluctant to use implement the technology. But for the goalkeepers in the 2019 Women’s World Cup, it seems that they are victims of a hastily prepared piece of legislation that gives penalty-takers an enormous advantage.

Larger questions over the use of VAR in football


Whilst the video-assisted referee was supposed to have eliminated doubt about many footballing controversies, it seems to have done little more than stoke the fire. Anybody who watched the Women’s World Cup match between England and Cameroon will know that VAR was the cause of a huge amount of ill-feeling.

This game saw Cameroon’s team in danger of walking off the pitch as the result of their disgust with VAR decisions that permitted an England goal, but disallowed one of their own. Of course, there should always be a degree of professionalism when dealing with referee decisions. But the fact that Cameroon’s players were gesturing towards video replays being shown on-screen in the stadium illustrates that technology is having a massive impact on the game.

Many people have criticised how the use of VAR slows the game down too much. In the 2019 Women’s World Cup, it was common to have matches where each half featured well over five minute’s extra time as a result of VAR checks.

Plus the fact that many important moments ranging from a goal to a potential red card had to be analysed by the video-assistant referee staff meant that games suffered from a negative stop-start nature. Above all, the introduction of VAR has meant that the spirit of football has been forever altered, and it may have had the inadvertent effect of adding even more controversy to the beautiful game.

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