The Indian Women’s League has seen many talented footballers come to the fore. However, there have always been four dedicated women sweating in every match to ensure that it is supervised smoothly — the referees.
In what is a significant change for referee’s development in the country, all matches of the IWL have been officiated by women referees.
“Around seven to eight years back, the chances for women referees in India were few, and far between,” said Monika Jana, who is one of the referees officiating in the IWL. “That has obviously changed now. Now we get these opportunities to officiate in matches on a regular basis,” she said.
There are of course the likes of Uvena Fernandes, who is on the panel of FIFA referees, and officiates in both national and International tournaments on a regular basis. Two years back she became the first Indian to officiate in any FIFA World Cup final.
However, for the officials who are still climbing the ladder, the IWL has proved to be a great stepping stone to hone their skills.
“It’s such a big tournament which is why the IWL is a big opportunity for the women referees to showcase their talent,” said referee Sujata Palit, who is an employee of the Kolkata Police.
“How does one get better? It is only through more and more practice that we can do better and reach a higher level. Just like players, referees also need match practice,” Sujata added. “So the more matches we get, the more experienced we will become, and we can attain a higher level.”
AIFF Head of Referees, Ravishankar says that the federation has taken the initiative to have only women referees in the IWL, in order to “ensure a holistic upliftment of the women’s game.”
“This makes them work at the same level, and their comfort zone is raised. The development of football and refereeing are interrelated. When the game develops the refereeing standard develops and vice versa,” he maintained.
The referees themselves, however, believe that the exposure that they now get in the IWL is gradually increasing.
“Compared to the first season, the level of football in IWL has gone up. Now foreign players are also plying their trade. So definitely, we get to see a good brand of football out here, and that also helps us improve our standards,” said Kanika Barman, who also works with the Kolkata Police.
Assistant referee Shalini Yadav says that as referees, they need to keep themselves calm at all times and deal with such situations.
“We always try to keep ourselves calm and collected, in order to deal with various situations. I personally find that listening to soothing music before a match helps a lot. But different referees have different ways of dealing with it,” Yadav smiled.