Damkova stands for Czech FA chair

Victory in September’s vote for the Czech FA chair would make Dagmar Damkova the first woman in Europe to hold such a lofty post.
Dagmar Damkova is a genuine pioneer. In 2003, she became the first female official to referee a Czech men’s top-flight soccer league game. This July, she became the first woman appointed to the referees commission of European football’s governing body UEFA. Now the 36-year-old is aiming higher still, standing for the position of chair of the Czech football association (FA). If she wins, she will be the first woman in Europe to hold such a powerful post.

Damkova has needed considerable fortitude to get to where she is today. In fact, the former English teacher says in her early days in men’s soccer she found the verbal abuse from both players and fans almost impossible to bear. She would occasionally break down in tears and considered quitting. “At the beginning it was very hard. I was the only woman, and they looked at me like, ‘what do you think you’re doing here? You should be in the kitchen,’” the ground-breaking ref told Czech Position. Damkova’s only choice was to persevere and prove that she was just as capable as her male colleagues. “I began to hear people saying ‘we should have all female refs!’” she says. “The players began to behave differently — that’s what changed over the years.”

However, it has not been all plain sailing, with one low point coming in the second half of the 2006–2007 season when, for apparently political reasons, she was struck off the Czech FA’s list of top flight refs. Nevertheless, Damkováas reputation continued to grow abroad and she was put in charge of such prestigious matches as the women’s final at the Beijing Olympics (“the greatest moment of my career”) and this year’s women’s UEFA Champions League final.
Damkova’s international career reached a new peak in July, when she became the first woman — and the first Czech — ever appointed to UEFA’s 15-member referees commission. The body’s first meeting is taking place in the Swiss town of Nyon this Monday, and she says it is not entirely clear what her responsibilities will be, though the signs are she will oversee women’s refereeing in Europe and all refereeing in the Czech league. She will continue to live in her hometown Plzen Winning the prestigious post means Damkova has had to hang up her boots. After the final game of her career in early August, between Mlada Boleslav and Slovacko, both teams lined up to kiss her for good luck (one cheeky player asked her to swap jerseys). “No other ref will ever have such a send-off,” she says.
However, no sooner had Damkova been awarded the UEFA position than she announced her boldest ambition yet: to stand for chair of the Czech FA, following the shock resignation in June of Ivan Hasek, who was only two years into a four-year term. “I want to help improve the reputation of Czech football abroad. Because the name of Czech football is very, very bad,” says Damkováa adding that frequent changes at the head of the country’s FA are regarded as “crazy” by officials at FIFA, which oversees world soccer, and UEFA. “It’s very important to have an FA president who is well-known, and who has contacts at UEFA and FIFA,” she says, outlining her qualifications for the post. “If you do not have contacts, you are a loser.”

Nevertheless, eyebrows have been raised by Damkova’s candidature. There have been suggestions that if elected, the popular referee could in fact serve as a puppet in the hands of her boyfriend Roman Berbr, the powerful head of the Plzeň branch of the FA.
Damkova bristles at this idea. “We are partners, and we live together. But I am an individual, and I am responsible for myself,” she says. “It is the same with refereeing. At the beginning, of course he helped me. But then I achieved everything by myself, thanks to my own qualities and skills.”

Delegates at a Czech FA extraordinary general meeting on September 16 will choose between Damkova, the organization’s former deputy chairman, Jindrich Rajchl (who is also reported to be close to Berbr) and Miroslav Pelta, the owner of Jablonec FC. Damkova has also put her name in the ring for the position of deputy chair, leading Pelta to imply that his opponents may be working in tandem with a view to dividing the spoils. Meanwhile, Damkova says it is not yet clear whether she would be able to hold a top Czech FA post and retain her place on the UEFA commission and that she will discuss the matter in Nyon.

In any case, Damkova says she still has plans beyond the Czech Republic. “I’ve had some contact with FIFA and have had a few meetings with them. We’ll see what happens in the future – maybe I could get something on the executive committee,” she says. “Both [FIFA president Sepp] Blatter and [UEFA president Michel] Platini want women to be on the committees. Now it is just the green light for women, so I feel like I have got a good chance.”

Source: Czech Position