Do you ever get the feeling that whatever catastrophes take place in the world, football and particularly the more recent phenomenon, women’s football, carries on growing regardless? This struck me last August when looking at a report from the Women’s under twenty World Cup finals being held in Canada. Natalie Aspinal of Lancashire had been appointed to referee the semi final of the tournament, just a few months after having given birth to her first child., England’s women’s team by the way were knocked out in the groups stages, (does that seem familiar?), What I found intriguing was that the two teams taking part in her match, were North Korea and Nigeria. North Korea as we all know has a despot dictator with many ordinary people struggling to survive and yet its women footballers have progressed to the World Cup semi finals. Nigeria is in constant battle with Boko Haram, the Islamic terrorists who have kidnapped hundreds of young women and believed to have sold them off as slaves. And yet in this same country, football, including women’s football, flourishes. At the beginning of this season, the Laws of the Game were changed regarding the wearing of headgear in the game. This was brought about after FIFA had refused to allow Iran’s women’s football team to compete in the London Olympic Games because they covered their heads. It was a surprise to many that in a male dominated Muslim state such as Iran, women were not only allowed to play football but had reached international level.
In Egypt, another country that has suffered its share of strife and bloodshed particularly since the so-called Arab Spring, a young woman referee is making the headlines. Sara Samir who is refereeing in men’s football, has said that she gets less trouble from the men than do her male colleagues. In the lower divisions where she currently officiates she says the players often hurl a barrage of insults at the referee but she has had nothing but respect. ‘We are an Eastern society where men usually refrain from obscenities in front of women,’ she said. However, Reading’s first ever woman referee, Wendy Prior, said a few years ago when she started in the local Reading leagues, that she felt the teams moderated their behaviour.
Sara Samir’s dream is to referee at the Women’s World Cup Finals but she will have to wait until 2019 at least as the list of referees for the 2015 Women’s World cup Finals has just been produced. We have some brilliant woman referees in this country, but sadly there are none on the list, although there are two from Japan, Canada and Romania and one each from such small countries as New Zealand, The Cook Islands and Fiji. They all travel to a FIFA seminar in Portugal later this month.
There are plenty of other opportunities for woman referees, think of Sian Massy, not only an assistant referee on the Premier League but one of the highest rated ones. Alison Chapman one of our local women referees was a FIFA assistant referee until she retired from refereeing to start a family. Morag Pirie of Scotland refereed the semi-final of the Youth Olympics in China last year. Even at a lower level there are great chances to referee around the world. Only last week, the organisers of the USA Cup sent out an appeal for more female referees, 17 and over, to join other referees from around the world at their annual tournament in Blaine, Minnesota this summer.
So any girls or young women, who would like to take up refereeing, it all starts with the basic referees’ course. These are run regularly and full details can be found on the Berks & Bucks FA website.