Referee boss wants ‘learning’ over WSL abandonment

The head of referees in the Women’s Super League admits they must “take a lot of learning” after the game between Chelsea and Liverpool was abandoned.

Sunday’s game was called off after six minutes because of a frozen pitch.

The pitch had passed an inspection to kick off as scheduled at 12:30 GMT.

Bibiana Steinhaus-Webb, women’s director of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), said: “We do understand fans and TV, but player safety is our one and only target.”

Referee Neil Hair called off the game – staged at Kingsmeadow in Kingston upon Thames, London, and shown live on BBC Two – because of an unsafe pitch, with officials criticised for allowing it to start in the first place.

Chelsea manager Emma Hayes said the women’s game must be taken more “seriously”, and Liverpool boss Matt Beard said: “It shouldn’t have been played in the first place.”

Former England and Brighton manager Hope Powell, working as a BBC pundit for the game, described the situation as “embarrassing”.

Steinhaus-Webb, who heads up officiating in the women’s professional game in England, told BBC Sport on Monday: “We take a lot of learning from the weekend.

“The only person who can abandon that match is the referee, and he gave the game the best chance to be on.

“He put everything in context and consideration, for fans, TV viewers and teams. However we need to take player safety as main priority.”

Steinhaus-Webb pointed to an early incident involving Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert as a factor in the abandonment.

“Players were sliding around in the first minute,” she said. “Cuthbert stretched for the ball in the first minute and landed on her backside, if she landed on her head that could have caused serious damage. We can’t allow that to happen.”

Steinhaus-Webb defended the measures taken by the Football Association to try to get games on, saying it spent about £40,000 in heating and pitch covers.

She said it had monitored weather forecasts from Monday to see how conditions would affect the weekend’s games, and that referee Hair and his team had contacted Chelsea on Saturday with concerns about the pitch given the cold, before being able to first inspect the pitch at 09:30 GMT on Sunday – three hours before kick-off.

Steinhaus-Webb said: “At 9.30, the first time the referee looked at it, he was not convinced the surface was playable. However, he was in close contact with the ground staff, and with the heating on full power, you can actually immediately see the change in the surface.

“A second pitch inspection was then decided before warm-up; this time it was absolutely playable, it was fine during the warm-up. When the teams came for the line-up, there was a slight change in the surface because the heating made it humid on the top.

“The grounds team, who know their surface best, said it would hold up, but with this thin layer of humidity, it deteriorated again. It made a thin layer of hard surface on top very quickly, so after six minutes the referee made the tough decision to abandon the match for the safety of players, which is paramount.”

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