“We realised that one girl means one family. Since we don’t have a women’s football league we encourage them to take up refereeing so that they can have a good future.
First we started scouting and then, in 2012, we got a good response in the women’s only referee course, which was attended by 30-34 girls,” said the All India Football Federation (AIFF) Head of the Referees Department, Col (Retd). Goutam Kar.
On the list of FIFA women referees Maria Rebello, 42, and Uvena Fernandes, 32, are the only two Indians.
U-19 nationals, a path-breaking moment
The former India captain Maria Rebello, who is now a regular in the Goa men’s pro-league, said the U-19 nationals in Cuttack, last December, were a path-breaking moment for women referees in India.
For the first time, the U-19 women’s championship was exclusively supervised by women referees allowing many to officiate at a higher level.
Earlier in 2013, Maria became the first women referee to officiate in the men’s I-League.
Asked if she gets taunts when she makes a crucial decision, she said, “As referees, we are used to it. But we are trained not to be bothered by what people say. If we think it’s the right decision, we give, no matter what.
“If you listen to people and give up, then you make the people win against you. I like critics but hate hypocrites. I like criticism for it has helped me a lot in my life. You need to have courage to win against all odds”.
“I’ve built a name for myself and now they respect me,” she added.
Her peer, Uvena Fernandes, currently an officer with the Indian Air Force (IAF), also represented India before she shifted to refereeing in 2003. In that same year she became the first woman referee to get through the Goa Football Association’s selection process.
“There were many (people) who told me that I would find it difficult to continue refereeing. They said I wouldn’t even be allowed to play football but I was determined not to give up. I continued, and here I am,” said Uvena.
Following the steps of Rebello and Fernandes
Following Rebello and Fernandes’ examples, four other women, including Ruba Devi, Basanti, Kanika Burman and Monica Jana, have recently qualified as Class II national referees.
“If these four girls (who have just qualified) make it big, then it will surely inspire the next generation of women referees,” said the AIFF’s Head of the Referees Department.
“There is interest among the women footballers to become referees but the tests are very tough. Those who pass the test can really make it big,” he added.