FIFA explains all-female referee crew for World Cup

Harjeet Johal June 30, 2015 26
Referee Carol Anne Chenard was subject to criticism from outsiders for her performance in the France-Germany quarterfinal. (Getty Images)

Referee Carol Anne Chenard was subject to criticism from outsiders for her performance in the France-Germany quarterfinal. (Getty Images)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – In any sport, criticisms of a referee’s decisions are quite often the sticking point after a game.

Most notably, in soccer a referee is seemingly always under the microscope for a missed penalty, a foul a handball or a host of other decisions.

Referees and officials face increasing scrutiny, that is only increasing. This is part of the reason why it is so difficult to find referees who are up to the standards of being a referee at a World Cup. The referee pool simply is not expansive enough to pick officials who are all at the top-level quality wise. The notion that male referees should be involved in women’s soccer is a topic with many avenues.

All 73 match officials for the 2015 Women’s World Cup are females, which is by design from FIFA.

[KASSOUF: United States, Germany, set for heavyweight semifinal clash]

Massimo Busacca, FIFA’s head of refereeing, talked about the understanding of football from female referees. It would be brilliant if former players took more of an interest in becoming a referee, he says. They know the game well because they have played it and most stay fit. The confederations need to do a better job supporting and helping to find Females who want to be a referee.

“I saw a lot of sacrifice, most of them, they are officiating men in their leagues so they know what they’re doing,” he said. “We need more football understanding. We have to find referees that have played football before and they know, because they’ve been playing (football) a little bit before. In my opinion, we can find this even in the women’s side. We have to go to the confederations and say we want to continue with women. We have to respect them, they know what is football. We have here some referees that have played in a World Cup as players and I see the difference. They’re running well, they understand football, they know what is a foul. We have to respect and continue with women in women’s competitions, absolutely, but we have to develop.”

The number of coaches involved in women’s soccer are predominately male. Among the teams in the round of 16, only Jill Ellis, Silvia Neid, Pia Sundhage and Martina Voss-Tecklenburg are women. Neid and Ellis have Germany and the United States, respectively, in Tuesday’s semifinal.

Tatjana Haenni, FIFA deputy director of competitions and head of women’s football, would like to see more female referees. The opportunities for women in sport are not what they are for men. At the top level, coaching is slowly being taken over by men and refereeing should be an option for females, first, she says.

“Women are trying to get into football like in other areas of society in culture and it’s a cultural reflection,” Haenni says. “I think now that women’s football has become so popular I see it as a risk that we have narrowed that discussion. Why don’t we have male referees?,” she asks rhetorically.

[JOHAL: Why Canada missed an opportunity with quarterfinal exit]

“We have more male coaches than females. I think we have to find a balance between having that know-how and expertise. At the same time we have to give career opportunities to the women who want to be involved in women’s football. On the coaching side we see it. On the top level, women are getting lesser in numbers and I think on the women’s refereeing side. We now have to decide, do we give more opportunities to women’s referees and at the same time ask if the coaches to be at the top level of the game? Or do we still continue not doing enough, and at one point women will have huge difficulties to be at the top level of the game?”

(Getty Images)

(Harjeet Johal)

The former Switzerland international clarified her thoughts on the possible inclusion of male referees at future FIFA Women’s World Cups. It’s simply not going to happen and is not a foreseeable solution.

“I don’t think we said we’re considering taking male referees,” Haenni said. “I think right now, not at all. I think we need to look at how can we maybe make former players actual referees. I think there’s no need for that (male referees). Women’s football as a sport is developing, teams are developing, players are developing and for the referees it’s just the same.”

Busacca refereed at the highest of stages in the men’s game. Including World Cup 2006 and 2010, Euro 2008, and the Champions League final in 2009. He has seen it all and was appointed to his current position in July 2011. The standard that we have seen at the Women’s World Cup is on par for what you would see at a major football tournament, he says. Players and referees are human and make mistakes. For the most part, Busacca is pleased with what he has seen as the tournament has progressed.

“Round of 16, quartefinals, we didn’t have any big complaints. The referees who were assigned, they have a feeling. They know what they are doing. They know there is an important game and they have to take an important decision.

“Talking about the Group Stage, of course we have to admit there were probably some (complaints). We had eight more teams. The 24 teams were on the same level? No. Some go home, some went on because they were not on the same level. The referees are the same. We had to release some who were not probably at the level of this competition to arrive until the end. We are human.”

[LAULETTA: Sasaki thinks no travel will benefit Japan in semifinal]

The move to take the World Cup from 16 teams to 24 teams has been a positive step for the growth of women’s soccer. Yes, there were a few lopsided results, but the only way that burgeoning women’s soccer programs can grow is to participate.

“I’m really 100 percent convinced that this was the right step,” Haenni said of going to 24 teams. “Of course there are some teams here which you can see from the quality is not the same. The top teams and then maybe there is a difference to some of the teams. I think for the tournament itself, we had entertaining games. We had great games. The match Thailand vs. Côte d’Ivoire was really entertaining to watch. Of course you can say they have some ways to go to maybe be a potential World Cup winner, but the match is entertaining, the crowd had fun. It was great to watch. For the tournament itself I don’t think that we had any problems or big issues that the teams were not prepared or not good enough. They did an excellent job.”

Haenni continued:

“I think for the confederations organizing the qualifiers, if they know they had a slot more or two slots more it gives more chances to other teams. I think Europe is a key example, but also South America. Some other teams had a chance to qualify. When you have a chance to qualify, you prepare better, the national team gets more support, they play more matches. That all then trickles down to the leagues, players, and that’s what we need.”

One final topic discussed during the FIFA refereeing and tactical study briefing on Monday was diving. You hardly see any diving or embellishment in women’s soccer. In those rare instances which it appears, players like Anja Mittag apologize after a match, because she didn’t intend to fall and cause the referee to award a penalty against the opponent (Sweden, in this case).

There also aren’t mass confrontations like in the men’s game.

“It’s just a different world for female players,” said Haenni, who played for clubs like FC Bern, Rapid Lugano, and SV Seebach. “They enjoy it, they feel privileged to be here and they’re happy to be here. It’s a different culture. Their daily life back home is different too. They play in most of the leagues not in front of so many spectators. They’re not paid so much, most of them work or study. I think that has an influence on it. They enjoy the game, they want to play the game.”

The average number of yellow cards issued per match at this World Cup is 2.0; the number of red cards is 0.1 issued. The average number of fouls per game in the group stage of this Women’s World Cup was about 21, compared to over 30 per game at last year’s men’s World Cup.

While refereeing may not be at its absolute perfect best, neither are performances from the teams on the pitch. Women’s soccer is still growing and developing and that includes those on and off the pitch whose decisions may not always be agreeable to everyone.

  • Miami66

    I think they should use their best women and men for both men & women world cups.

    • FawcettFan14


    • Lorehead

      The difficulty is that you wouldn’t have any female center refs in the men’s World Cup, because of the need to be fast enough to keep up with the men in the World Cup. But you would have some female assistant refs, so that might be good enough.

      • Steglitz49

        No. Not good enough.

        • Lorehead

          Then maybe if the center refs had to be male at the men’s WC and female at the women’s, but the assistants could be either? You still wouldn’t actually get any female refs from some countries unless FIFA said, “You have to send women to the women’s tournaments.”

          • Steglitz49

            You don’t get it. Female refs for female matches, male refs for male matches. Simple and logical.

          • Lorehead

            That makes sense because women wouldn’t otherwise get opportunities to be refs. But if women can be refs in men’s games and vice versa, let them.

  • Same Oh, So So

    Women work for less. Money wise FIFA gets the deal.

    Tatjana Haenni is a gender Jihadist, who indicates there will be no men officiating. It is activists like her who use soccer to settle scores and promote so called social justice that weakens the game. She is the problem, not the lack of qualified women referees. Her insistence that only women referee world cup matches, ensures sub par talent.

    Crap officiating does nothing to help WOSO in the eyes of the public. It would be better to keep the world class women referees and replace the 2ed string with men at the World Cup level. Putting second rate quota hires on the pitch does not go unnoticed and only confirms the fable that women are second to men. That’s right, at a world cup event women are on display, being judged, so lets just put the second string out there and when people take note lets call them sexists.

    The majority of soccer fans, both men and women, excursively follow the men’s game. They are not going to embrace WOSO for it’s commitment to social justice. Far from it, it will drive people away. Soccer is a game not a movement. Sport is human and its roots go back before written history. Ninety Nine percent of that time Men have dominated. Like or not that is how it has been.

    If you want Women to have a cut of the action, then we better stop using the players and the game for social justice. If we want more women refereeing at the top level they must reach that level first, not after. The reality is women loose on the pro sport level when the best are not on the pitch.

    • Steglitz49

      If you want WoSo to grow, you have to get spectators to the matches. Club matches, not just WC-matches — which have hardly impressed in this WC. France v Germany 24,859 tickets sold, Japan v Australia 19,814, China v USA 24,141 but, thank goodness, Canada v England 54,027.

      • dw

        How do those numbers compare to the quarters in 2011?

        • Steglitz49

          The 4 QFs in 2011 had the following demographics.

          — Ger-Japan – 26k – full – in Wolfsburg, 122k inhabitants;
          — Eng-Fra – 26k – full – in Leverkusen, 160k people
          — Swe-Aus – 24.6k – 92% – in Augsburg, 276k people
          — Bra-USA – 25.5k – full – Dresden, 530k people

          The opening match between Germany and Canada was played in a sold-out 74k Olympic stadium in Berlin. It was the only match played in Berlin.

          We can agree that Canada’s attendances are not as wonderful as one might have hoped. The Fra-Ger match and Jap-Aus matches give the game away.

    • Craigaroo

      ah, geez, I’m not willing to read on when someone starts calling someone a jihadist over an issue like this.

  • OscarM

    The best players in the world deserve the best officials in the world regardless of gender. Funny that the players protested the turf but haven’t said a word about the affirmative action referees. The current system treats these women like lab rats.

    • Steglitz49

      If women want to play soccer, ladies have the right to referee. What is suace for one goose is sauce for the other. Let’s leave the ganders out of it.

    • Ron Bishop

      So are the players in the WWC the best players in the world or the best women players in the world?

  • Craigaroo

    Dan Loney makes a good case for all-women referees over at Big Soccer. There’s affirmative action at the men’s World Cup, too, he notes and he makes some good points. link:


    He also notes that diversity is a factor even in choosing teams for the tournament, let alone the referees. We guarantee that a certain number of teams from different regions around the world qualify, don’t we?


  • Apaapono

    They are all very poor and the half decent one I have seen at this world cup is from North Korea, the irony. That has been one of my biggest gripe with woso for years. It doesnt help that players dont complain about decision, it is something we love about woso but I also thinks it makes terrible refs, as far as the refs are concerned they had a fantastic game because no one questioned them about any of thier decisions.

  • AlexH

    Is the goal of the world cup to determine a champion of WOMEN’S soccer or women’s SOCCER. If it’s the former, then by all means put plumbing before ability when it comes to the refs but if it’s the latter then put ability before plumbing.

    • Steglitz49

      A game by women for women: ladies play and ladies referee. Basta.

  • Ron Bishop

    I’m for the women only referee teams. The soccer teams are women only.

    The only way women become better players is playing. The only women become better coaches is coaching. The only way they become better referees is officiating.

    The men have plenty of opportunities outside the women’s world cup.

    • Steglitz49

      Hear hear!

  • Lorehead

    I don’t have a problem with all female referees, but they should be referees with experience at the professional and international level.

    • Steglitz49

      It will come. It will come. FIFA could help by providing funding. When the North-Korean ref is one of the better if not best, we know there is hope.

      • Perhaps there needs to be more emphasis on training programs and the path to becoming a top official. I don’t know if many ex-players are aware of the process of becoming a ref. It’s also one of those jobs that is more of a hobby. You really have to work a full-time job and ref on the side, so you have to do it because you love it.

        • Steglitz49

          Absolutely. The difference is that men earn more than women and many of the top males referees are in high paying professions. Rizzoli is an architect. Others have been investment bankers, financial analysts, chartered accountants etc.

  • dw

    18 converted PKs with 1 match to play vs. 4 (FOUR!) in all of WWC11. It was my opinion that goal scoring was down, but that did not bear out statistically until you put it in context of the above statement. Looks like FIFA went for 2014 NWSL tactics to get goal scoring up.