Casey Stoney, the Manchester United manager, believes the financial uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic will prolong the wait for full-time referees in top-flight women’s football.
Stoney was a leading voice last season in calling for full-time officials in the professional Women’s Super League, where referees are not currently contracted by the Football Association.
As the body prepares to confront potential losses of £300m in the wake of the pandemic, Stoney said she had “not changed my opinion, but changed my approach” towards the issue as United look to build on their fourth place finish from their maiden WSL campaign.
“It [the WSL] is a full-time league with amateur referees, or part-time referees,” said Stoney. “It doesn’t potentially work. That has to come with investment. We are at a time where the Football Association [FA] are making redundancies. So are we at a time where we can call for full-time officials? Financially, probably not.”
According to figures from the FA, the introduction of a ‘match official evaluation scheme’ in the WSL last year – whereby referees were analysed in the same way as those in the Premier League – led to 98.3 per cent of correct decisions being made by match officials in the women’s top-flight.
“Maybe we are a little bit unfair,” continued Stoney. “The officials are not full-time. They don’t have the ability to train every day or to improve every day. A lot of them turn up to midweek games after having done a full day’s work.
“Yes, we want the standards to improve, absolutely. I think even looking at the Champions League, you want the standards to improve. But we need to take the focus off them and put it on us as a team. We can’t make excuses because we don’t get a goal or a penalty has been given.”
United face a tough opening match when they host Chelsea, who are currently on a record 28-game unbeaten streak on the road. “We have only been around for three years so we still have catching up to do, but I’m happy with my squad and I’m sure we can keep pushing on,” added Stoney.
“We couldn’t have asked for a tougher opener, but we are all just keen to get out on the pitch and start playing again. You always feel like that before the first game of the season but this year especially so.”