Tuesday , April 23 2024

The future is bright for women officials in Asia: Kari Seitz!

The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup – Australia & New Zealand which is only months away, will feature the largest cast of Asian women officials, promising a new age for women in Asian football.

In this exclusive interview with AFC Media, Kari Seitz, FIFA Head of Refereeing, Women, reflects on the changing landscape for women referees.

How much do you think the refereeing ecosystem has changed for women since your first stint in 1999?

When I was starting out, there was no ecosystem to speak of. For instance, at my first FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1999, we simply showed up one day before the tournament started and attended a preparatory course that lasted for a few hours.

Today, things are completely different. We have built a three-and-a-half-year long programme to select referees. We have professional coaches, both physical and technical, a medical staff in place, none of which existed earlier. There has been a 360° change.

In December 2022, Yoshimi Yamashita marked a huge milestone when she became the first Asian woman to serve as referee at the FIFA World Cup. How do you think this will change when it comes to the way refereeing is seen as a profession for women in Asia?

It makes me very hopeful for the future. I hope she is seen as a role model not just in Asia, but for women officials around the world.

A few years ago, no one would have believed that women could be at a men’s world cup. Many people thought that it was impossible and now we have had Yoshimi, who based on her qualities, was at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Moreover, she also has a professional contract in Japan, which very few women in Asia have.

The key is to open doors and recognise potential. I hope now that door has been kicked open, and that many people will follow her example. This happens only when you have a role model to show the path and I think Yoshimi can really lead the way.

In your opinion, what kind of an impact have the AFC’s programmes had on women referees on the Continent?

The investment that the AFC has made by hiring someone specifically for the women’s programme is great. The AFC Elite Women Referees & Assistant Referees Course 2023 had the largest number of attendees till date and many of the referees were brought in from countries that have not had women officials before. The effect of these initiatives can only be positive.

There are several countries whose women’s football programmes are still at a very nascent stage, but they already have referees who are good enough to be considered “Elite”. This shows that there has already been a big impact, and I am sure that it will continue to grow.

This is the largest cast of Asian women referees to be appointed at a FIFA Women’s World Cup, what do you think the AFC’s priorities should be to keep the momentum up and build on the progress that has been made?

I think the tactics that are currently being used are working well. When the referees see that they have the AFC in their corner who are ready to support them at every turn of the way, if only they put in the hard work – it can act as the biggest motivating factor.

Besides that, wherever possible, women are being integrated into men’s competitions. Moreover, there are also courses being designed specifically for women which are allowing them to see the potential in football for themselves. So, I believe the future is very bright for women officials in Asian football.

Lastly, you are among the world’s most experienced referees, men or women, and have continued to serve the game in different roles since your retirement. What keeps you going and what do you have to say to referees around the world to help them stay focused and motivated?

The advice I give to other referees is to have a dream, and to then work towards that dream. It is the same advice I use for myself.

For example, it was always my dream to see women officials at the men’s world cup and we have accomplished that. So now I have to build my next dream, and that’s what keeps me charged.

One day, we will have a woman in the final of the FIFA World Cup refereeing on the field. I may not know when that day will come, but those are the dreams that keep me motivated and I hope it helps others keep going as well.

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