TORONTO — The inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991 featured six female referees or assistant referees, a first for FIFA, “in keeping with the true spirit of the celebration.”
Eight years later, soccer’s world governing body made the decision to go with all female officials at the women’s showcase.
Today it’s a given.
Former Canadian team coach Sylvie Beliveau calls it a “fabulous story.” Beliveau, who coached Canada at the 1995 World Cup, has been part of FIFA’s technical study group since 1999 and has watched the integration of female officials from Day 1.
“In 1999, after FIFA made the decision to have female officials only, the coaches I interviewed all said ‘I’m afraid about refereeing. It’s not at the (right) level.'” she recalled. “There was no issue actually. But it was a fear initially when FIFA made that decision.
“But they maintained it, which meant there was true development all the way down the chain, to have women prepared for the final phases of every World Cup. It’s not even a question any more.
“Are we questioning calls for referees? Yes. Are we doing it on the men’s side? Yes.”
FIFA has already announced a list of 29 tournament referees and 44 assistant referees for this World Cup. The referees’ list will be trimmed to 22 after a Vancouver camp on the eve of the tournament, with seven of the refs to be designated support officials.
FIFA has already held three gatherings for the World Cup officials in Europe.
Canadian referees are Ottawa’s Carol Anne Chenard, a former short-track speedskater who once held the world record in the 3,000 metres, and Michelle Pye of Kamloops, B.C.
They will be joined by assistant referees Marie-Josee Charbonneau of Mascouche, Que., and Suzanne Morisset of Beauport, Que.
The officials’ list represents 49 countries from Argentina to Zambia.
The 24-country World Cup runs Saturday to July 5 in Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver.
Massimo Busacca, head of FIFA’s Refereeing Department, is happy to talk about the female officials he supervises.
“They are really good quality,” he said.
The 46-year-old Busacca should know. His refereeing career spanned more than 20 years, including 12 internationally. The Swiss native officiated at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, Euro 2008 and was in charge of the 2009 Champions League final, 2007 UEFA Cup final and 2010 UEFA Super Cup.
When the tournament starts, the officials will be split between Vancouver and Montreal for geographical reasons. But they will share the same briefings via teleconference.
Officials will be assigned on merit in the knockout rounds.
“It’s like a football team … the coach is giving games (to players) only based on their skills, their qualities, not looking at other details. We want to do the same,” said Busacca.
Being second-guessed is part of the job.
“I absolutely enjoy it or else I wouldn’t put myself through it,” Chenard said after the officials list was released.
“What I learned very early on is that pressure and stress is kind of part of the deal if you’re going to go to a World Cup and be a referee. So it’s just how you deal with it.”
As in the men’s World Cup in Brazil, the officials will be helped by goal-line technology.
“I pushed for that, I have to be honest,” said Busacca.
Busacca pointed to an incident in the final of the FIFA U-20 Championship last summer in Montreal when Nigerian Asisat Oshoala’s header beat German goalkeeper Meike Kaemper. Nigeria’s Loveth Ayila kicked the ball in the back of the net for added emphasis.
Ayila was ruled in an offside position and the goal was disallowed.
There was no goal-line technology in use but video replay, however, showed the ball had already crossed the line before Ayila got a foot on it. Germany scored in the eighth minute of extra time to win 1-0.
Chenard was the lone Canadian referee at the 2011 World Cup in Germany, taking charge of both a quarter-final and a semifinal. She was also the only Canadian referee at the 2012 Olympics, where her assignments included Britain versus Brazil before a crowd of 70,584 at Wembley Stadium.
“Really spectacular,” was Chenard’s memory of that day.
Charbonneau also officiated at the London Games.
Chenard was in charge of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup gold-medal game in Germany in 2010 and the semifinal at the 2008 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.
Off the pitch, she works for the federal government in Health Canada. Her expertise is compliance and enforcement, regulating companies whose products involve controlled substances.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press