Wednesday 05 July 2023, 14:00

Calderas on family life, refereeing and a job well done

  • Venezuelan referee reveals how she got into officiating

  • Australia & New Zealand 2023 will be her first FIFA Women’s World Cup

  • “Refereeing has made me who I am today,” she told

“I’m like a kid just before their birthday, counting down the days,” laughed Emikar Calderas. At the age of 33, the Venezuelan referee is raring to go for Australia & New Zealand 2023™, the first FIFA Women’s World Cup™ of her career and a personal dream come true.

That dream stretches back four years, as the smiling match official, who comes from the city of Barquisimeto, told “I was fascinated by the standard of refereeing at the Women’s World Cup in 2019. When the Final was on, I was in Italy, officiating at the University Games, so I wasn’t so far from France. I watched it with hope in my eyes and said to myself that I wanted to be there one day. Now that it’s so close, the excitement is just building. I’m feeling pretty nervous.”

She was first acquainted with the game when she was eight. “At home, my dad and my mum especially were never sexist about things and they always supported me wanting to play football,” said Calderas. “There was a dirt pitch in the neighbourhood where I lived, and I’d play there with my eight brothers and sisters and my cousins and friends. I was a midfielder and if I had to put the boot in I did it like a good South American,” she added with a giggle.

“I always respected the referee, though. I’ve always seen them as people who not just knew the rules better than me but who have a reason for blowing up for a foul. I could see that it was a difficult job, that it involved a lot of running around and taking lots of decisions. But I never thought when I was playing that I’d end up being a referee.”

That changed in 2010, when she was 20 and when football was still not a career option for a woman in Venezuela. It was then that refereeing became her life’s ambition, even though she was studying and graduating in Production Engineering at the same time.

Emikar Calderas of Venezuela in the practical training during FIFA Referees Seminar

“To my mind, refereeing means discipline, passion and commitment,” she said, “I like it too much. I wake up and I just want to go out and train, do things well. It really is my life. Refereeing has made me who I am today. I’ve learned to be a better person, a fairer, more disciplined and loyal person, and I owe it all to refereeing.”

Amid the whistles, cards and flags she met her husband, Lubin Torrealba, a FIFA international assistant referee and the father of her son, Jose Carlos.

“We support each other 100% at home and we train and study together,” she explained. “VAR is not allowed, though (laughs). We discuss issues around the laws of the game with a passion. We’re fanatics but not like the fans. We don’t cheer good passes. We cheer when an official gets it right!”

So what does the 10-year-old Jose Carlos make of it all? “He knows the laws,” replied Calderas. “Sometimes he’s playing FIFA on the PlayStation and he’ll ask me to come through to see a decision the referee’s made. He’ll say, ‘Mami, that wasn’t a yellow. It was a red.’ Sometimes he comes back from playing a game and he’ll criticise some of the decisions the referees have made. Luckily, he’s very respectful towards the officials on the pitch. He doesn’t talk back then,” she added with pride in her voice.

Refereeing has made me who I am today. I’ve learned to be a better person, a fairer, more disciplined and loyal person, and I owe it all to refereeing.

Emikar Calderas
Venezuelan referee

That respect is not always shown by the fans in the stands, as she acknowledged. “My mother and my brothers and sisters struggle with that when they come and see me. I just tell them that it’s my job and not to worry about it. I tell them to go and sit far away and to be patient.”

Venezuela is a pioneer among national associations in that it appoints women to take charge of men’s first division matches, something for which Calderas is grateful and full of praise. As well as forging her character, it has made her largely immune to discrimination and the sexist comments that sometimes come her way.

“You get tougher as a referee and you just ignore the comments, especially here in South America, where sexism still exists,” explained Calderas, a believer in the Divina Pastora, the patron saint of the Venezuelan state of Lara. “It’s never bothered me and society accepts us now. And it’s an acceptance that comes from good decision-making, from the work that’s been done on the pitch. We’re respected now. They don’t see us as women anymore but as someone who referees. The gender doesn’t matter.”

Emikar Calderas referee gestures during the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Costa Rica 2022 quarterfinal

Calderas is rightly proud of her achievements since starting out in 2016, having refereed at the 2018 Copa America Femenina and two Copa Libertadores Femenina finals (in 2019 and 2022), and become the first South American to officiate at UEFA Women’s EURO, in 2022. She was also on duty at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup that year, taking charge of several games, including the final.

Though she looks upon every match as if it were a final, she remembers two in particular: “The U-20 Women’s World Cup quarter-final between Japan and France, because it had everything: late goals, extra time and penalties. And the 2019 Venezuelan championship semi-final between Deportivo Tachira and Deportivo La Guaria. There were 40,000 people there, a lot of expectation and a lot of attention on me. I said to myself, ‘You’re here for a reason’, and it all went well.”

So what challenges does Calderas have left in refereeing? “You always think how wonderful it would be to referee at the Olympic Games or at the men’s World Cup, but right now I’m focused on the Women’s World Cup. That was my goal four years ago and I’ve been preparing for this moment ever since. And I want to enjoy it, for me and for everyone who’s helped me to make it happen.”