Thursday 07 March 2024, 21:45

The inspiration behind Casey Reibelt’s journey to the summit

  • Casey Reibelt’s road to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ was inspired by a local icon

  • Australian referee featured at Australia & New Zealand 2023

  • On International Women’s Day, Reibelt hopes to be a role model for young match officials

Casey Reibelt would like nothing better than to be an inspiration for a new generation of local match referees after experiencing a “treasured” World Cup on home soil last year. The Australian referee knows better than most just how inspirational a local role model can be. Referee for the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final™ Tammy Ogston lived just a few suburbs away in her Brisbane hometown. Reibelt’s career was still in its fledgling stage, but seeing a local colleague working at the most elite stage imaginable brought a realisation that an international career in top-level football was possible. The phrase ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’ has rarely been more fitting. As International Women’s Day 2024 is celebrated, we hear about Reibelt’s journey from humble beginnings to two FIFA Women’s World Cups, role models from both home and abroad, and the inspiration on offer for the next generation of match officials.

China v England: Group D - FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023

Local inspiration

A teenage Reibelt started out as a young kid who “just loves football”, looking for some extra pocket money. Soon enough and prior to commencing her senior career at national league level in 2008, Reibelt saw first-hand just how dedicated Ogston was to her craft. “I was really lucky when I was coming through as a young ref that we had a couple of FIFA referees based in Brisbane. Jacqui Hurford, Krystyna Szokolai and Tammy Ogston – all had been involved in FIFA competitions and the Olympics,” Reibelt said. “I remember one of the first ever training sessions I went to, I saw Tammy Ogston do the beep test and I will never forget Tammy was the last, or one of the last still running: male or female. I saw her and I thought, ‘I just want to be like her, pushing boundaries and showing everyone what I can do’. I was very lucky to have those role models early on in my career.

“I watched the [2007] Final and thought that ‘this is amazing that an Australian is doing the Final of the Women’s World Cup’. She was definitely an early inspiration and set the standard."

Appetite for success

Fast forward a decade and a half, and Reibelt’s resume could barely be lengthier. The second Australian woman to referee a professional men’s match, Reibelt last year became the first among her countrywomen to referee an AFC Champions League match. A hunger for self-improvement resulted in Reibelt collecting her FIFA badge in 2014, subsequently officiating in numerous countries. Along with fellow Queenslander Kate Jacewicz, that journey was capped by a home World Cup last year. “I was lucky enough at the start of my career that a lot of those [women referee] trailblazers were still active. I was always asking questions, be it ‘what is it like, did they accept you, how did you get there’. I always wanted to hear how they got there because it was something I really wanted myself.”

The new normal

The landscape for female match officials and women’s football in general has changed over what seems a relatively short period of time. “I loved watching the recent Asian Cup with an all-female trio on one of the Australian games,” Reibelt said. “What really makes me feel good is that we now have young boys and girls watching and seeing female referees and thinking it is normal, and I love that.” Last weekend the 36-year-old, who also operates as a Video Match Official, brought up her 100 national league match milestone. Though still needing to squeeze in training between her day job as a teacher, the occasion provided yet another reminder of just how much incremental growth there has been. “Thinking back to my 50th game, it was the same Sydney derby but at a small suburban pitch in front of maybe a few hundred people. I didn’t even know it was my 50th match until afterwards. This time, it was at the stadium, a big double-header derby with around 10,000 spectators there by the end of our match. Now there is a celebration of refereeing, with recognition that referees are part of the game too. [It shows] the difference in the women’s game, the way it has grown and celebrates the achievements [of the referees] too.

The world comes Down Under

Reibelt says barely a day goes by when she is not asked - or thinks about - the special experience that was the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand™. “I’m sure there would have been plenty of young boys and girls that were motivated seeing the full stadiums, quality of games and general excitement and thinking ‘maybe one day I can referee a game like that’. One of the best parts of being a referee is being involved in exciting matches, with high quality football and with high challenges. “The performance of the match officials [in 2023] was just excellent. The improvements in fitness and the quality of the match officials was evident. That support we received from FIFA was second to none. “The whole experience was something I will treasure for the rest of my life. “I really hope that our young match officials - especially female match officials - see myself and others, and want to challenge themselves, want to push those boundaries and not give up when it gets hard.”