Monday 19 June 2023, 22:00

Chenard: The ‘professional adventurer’ starring in a new role

  • After missing out on the 2019 Women's World Cup, Carol Anne Chenard returns in a new role for the 2023 edition

  • The Canadian has been named as a video assistant referee for Australia & New Zealand 2023

  • "Women out there are showing the world what quality football is all about"

A lot of us have ideas about how we’ll happily retire after a long working life. This also applies to professional footballers and referees. As the years tick by, thoughts about retiring from active sports become more pressing. However, fate can sometimes intervene and usher in involuntary retirement, as was the case with Carol Anne Chenard. "My cancer diagnosis and missing [France] 2019 ended my on-field career – not in the way that I had envisioned. It wasn’t how I thought my career would end," says the Canadian. "While I was undergoing treatment, I was trying to stay involved in the game. By that time, I wanted to get back on the pitch, but I didn’t know what my prognosis was at the time. Concacaf, FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association let me continue to do some training. That’s what kept me close and involved. When I knew that I couldn't come back on the playing field, I was really struggling with what my next steps were. Am I going to become an instructor? What do I want to do? The playing field and the referees are really close to my heart. I wasn't quite ready to step away and I was provided this opportunity."

The opportunity that the 46-year-old is referring to came about in January this year, when FIFA announced the names of the match officials for the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™. The list included 19 video assistant referees (VARs) and, for the first time, six women – one of whom was Chenard. "I'm really proud to come back. VAR is now a new option which we didn’t have five years ago. It really provided me an opportunity to continue to use my experience that I had from tournaments. It allows me to support referees and to still participate closer to the pitch than if I was an instructor. But to be a part of a group of video match officials and be able to contribute and support the young referees that are coming up, is really special for me."

Chenard's path to becoming a Video Match Official (VMO) began by training with the PRO (Professional Referee Organization), a professional US-Canadian refereeing organization that supports the MLS (Major League Soccer) and NWSL (National Women's Soccer League). This was followed by practice matches, work in the MLS on a probationary basis for a year and then regularly, as well as matches in the NWSL. Then came her nomination as a video assistant referee for the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup 2022 in India, including the final on 30 October 2022. "I’ve done about 50 matches now overall in the last three years. Obviously, I was able to progress and get my FIFA certification after having some experience and doing some matches. It’s different than being on the field. There’s pressure on you because you’re looking at things on a video and can watch replays, whereas as a referee you don't get that opportunity. People are a little bit more accepting when you make a mistake," she explains. "As a VMO, you have to be able to look at the video, analyse the considerations quickly and then decide. It’s very easy in the video operating room to get stuck in a loop; but you really have to be able to take the considerations that we all learn as referees, assistant referees, referees on the field, watch them, understand what angles you need, but then you also have to be able to make the decision. One of my strengths is, because I was a top-level referee, that I am able to pull the plug and make the decision. Obviously, the correct outcome is what you want, but we don't want every video reviewed to take five minutes. That's not the intent for the game."

VAR Room

Football has played a major role in Chenard's return in a new role to the showpiece event of the women’s game. It gave her strength in the fight against the unknown. Early on in her refereeing career, she learned to control what can be controlled, and this was the approach she took when she received her cancer diagnosis. "I tried not to worry about the things I didn't know. It is very difficult when you are waiting for your diagnosis and waiting to find out what the plan is. Once I had a plan in place for me, it made a huge difference. I’m very action oriented," says this impressive, driven woman. "My first chemo was on the kick-off date of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, June 7. I did my chemo and watched the opening game, which in my heart was the game I wanted to do. The day I got diagnosed I knew I was going to miss France. In my head I said: I'm going to Tokyo; my goal is [the Olympic Football Tournament in] Tokyo. This was before I knew what I was in for, how my body would react. I think sometimes when you have a goal, which is what I learned in soccer as well, you can work towards it. I think controlling what I can control, surrounding myself with great people, having this goal and keeping my eye on some kind of a target was really helpful for me."

I surrounded myself with great people. The refereeing community took the time to send me videos and messages - these were women at the biggest tournament of their lives! They took the time to support me.

Carol-Anne Chenard

This ‘professional adventurer’, as Chenard describes herself on her Twitter account, still has one goal firmly in her sights even after the showpiece event of women's football. "Football has allowed me to see the world. When I was skating, I was able to travel and see the world, but football has really allowed me to go to almost every corner of the world and meet people. I want to continue that. I've never been to Australia – it’s one of the few places I haven’t been to. I’m really looking forward to our time there and then I'm going to continue travelling, meeting people, young referees, young kids, going to schools and encouraging people to see the world."