If you watched the hugely entertaining encounter between Japan and New Caledonia at the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017, you may not have noticed the referee. And that’s exactly the way she likes it. Esther Staubli, a Swiss school teacher and a rising star in refereeing circles, was the “woman in the middle”, making a little bit of history alongside the New Caledonians, who won their first-ever point at a FIFA event in the 1-1 draw. Although a woman had refereed a FIFA U-17 World Cup match before, it had not happened for 16 years, since Korean Im Eun-Ju took control of a contest at Trinidad & Tobago 2001. But it was part of a journey both for the veteran of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015 and for FIFA’s Refereeing Department, which has been working to train men’s and women’s referees in the same structure for some time. This joint preparation project began in 2016 as part of the quest by the FIFA Referee Committee and the administrators and instructors within the department to constantly improve the quality of officiating at FIFA events. The appointment of Staubli and the inclusion of six other women’s referees at India, who worked as fourth officials, is a fresh and exciting highlight in that quest. The other referees who came from every confederation: Ri Hyang Ok (PRK), Gladys Lengwe (ZAM), Carol Anne Chenard (CAN), Claudia Umpierrez (URU), Anna-Marie Keighley (NZL), Kateryna Monzul (UKR).
What they said
Dominique Wacalie, New Caledonia coach: "[Staubli] did a great job and we have nothing to criticise. I think it is good for the football in general. She helped the teams to play well. All the players respected her, so there was no difference to a man. I hope this is not the last time we see this."
Yoshiro Moriyama, Japan coach: "Honestly I couldn't really remember [Staubli’s] performance. And this is of course a good sign."
Esther Staubli, FIFA referee: “It was a match like any other one. Later on maybe there will be more emotions, or I will realise it was something special, but before I really tried to prepare like it was a normal match and do my best … It was really nice that they liked me as a referee, and that they just looked at me like a normal referee. I think there is not a big difference in whether it was a male or female referee, it is just the performance that counts.”
Kateryna Monzul, FIFA referee: “It’s a really big step for all women around the world. For me, I feel lucky and really appreciate being able to go back to my country with this experience. It gives us new goals and targets.”
Gladys Lengwe, FIFA referee: “This was a great experience and a great honour to be with so many great referees. I learned a lot from all of the matches.”
Anna-Marie Keighley, FIFA referee: “It was a wonderful opportunity to continue developing in preparation for the Women’s World Cup [France 2019] and to be here with the men and to help support them and continue to learn.”
Carol Anne Chenard, FIFA referee: “It was a wonderful experience for us here in India. It’s the next step in our progression as referees. It’s a great new opportunity to work with new officials and to learn from each other. The men really embraced us, and we really feel like we’re part of the team.”
Kari Seitz, Senior Manager, FIFA Refereeing Department: “The success of these women is a testament not only to their hard work and commitment, but also to what is possible when women, who demonstrate top refereeing qualities, are given the opportunity to perform. I am incredibly proud of them. I sincerely hope that by appointing women referees to this important competition we will inspire and motivate other women referees. The door has been opened, and we are committed to continue to build for the future. In that future, we won’t be calling them women referees or men referees, but just referees.”