Wednesday 13 November 2019, 00:22

Pioneering referees relishing Brazilian adventure

  • First all-female team to officiate a men's World Cup at Brazil 2019

  • Umpierrez, Mascarana and Amboya sit down with

  • "It feels like our dreams are being realised"

There is no denying that Claudia Umpierrez, Luciana Mascarana and Monica Amboya are in the spotlight right now.

As the first all-female refereeing team to officiate at a men’s World Cup, they were understandably the most sought-after by the media during a public training session for referees at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019.

Of the trio, Claudia (36) is the principal referee and practices as a lawyer in her native Uruguay. Luciana (38), a physical education teacher and fellow Uruguayan, is her first assistant, while Monica (37), a former athlete and current mathematics teacher from Ecuador, is her second.

All three have experience officiating in their country's professional leagues – in Claudia’s case since 2010 – with the trio most recently having participated as a team at the FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™. That in turn led to the chance to referee at Brazil 2019, as they explained to

What excites you most about being here?

Claudia: First and foremost, the appointment, as it came out of the blue. After France, we thought that was it for the year in terms of global events, so when the invitation came, it was very exciting.

Monica: That was the happiest day. Each of us was arriving at our jobs when we got the news. We have a WhatsApp group where we communicate, so there were plenty of screams and a few tears, because in truth this is a very big opportunity.

Luciana: I was on my way to work, when Moni broke the news to me. I had to pull over because I started crying and couldn’t stop. A lot of things go through your head... like those early days when you ask yourself, 'Why do I like this?’ Or those times when family and friends ask you why you want to be a referee...

C: It’s those moments that make you feel that all the effort was worth it. Throughout one’s career, it's not all a bed of roses. Monica and I are mothers, so we had to go through pregnancy and come back afterwards. There were tears of sadness at times when things didn't go the way we wanted, but now the tears are of joy because it feels like our like dreams are being realised.

Match official and referees with team captains 

What’s it been like in Brazil at a group level?

C: The group here is wonderful. We’re honoured to share duties with colleagues who officiate in the best leagues and to observe and learn from them. It’s not just the tournament, but everything we take from the preparation: using VAR or the ability to view an incident and correct something on the spot—these are all things that enhance us.

M: The exchange of experiences with the male refs is a learning tool. And their help and support, which has really made us feel part of the group, has been indispensable. The group have been very good with us and we try to reciprocate with hard work.

C: They know the extra effort we’ve had to make and that no one has gifted us anything. They know we’ve had to fight for this just as they have, earning the right to be here game by game.

And they can also learn things from you...

C: In the first match, Diego Aro (from Peru) was our fourth official and he noted some things in terms of our communication. We've been working together for a long time, which can also be good for them, because they’ve told us how good they found such and such a thing and that they’d like to adopt it too.

L: People have commented on how composed we are. While it's a men's tournament, our communication and planning remain the same.

How are things progressing in terms of reception by the players?

M: The level of acceptance is widespread. At first there may have been some surprise at seeing three women, but when they see us do our job on the pitch, they end up saying that we’re on par with the men and can make the same decisions. That's what all the preparation is for.

C: With each correct decision you gain credibility. It’s already been demonstrated that refereeing has no gender. What is required is preparation and professionalism because, if you just stay at home watching TV and you get this kind of opportunity, then things are not going to work out well. You have to work, work and work. There’s no other way.

Referee Claudia Umpierrez looks on during the training session ahead of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019

Apart from official feedback and reviews, how do you go about evaluating your own performances?

C: We’re able download all the games, watch them, extract clips, etc. We use our WhatsApp group to share clips and comment on them, and not just during tournaments. We always ask if there are any other scenarios we haven’t considered. I have the app on my cell phone, so after games I make clips and share them. Then we discuss them and talk about things that went well or not so well.

L: I do it by always trying to make the best of something and learning from it. I ask myself, ‘Why did such a thing happen to me, where was I positioned and was that perhaps the reason?’ We try to evaluate these things and sometimes another person’s perspective can be better.

M: It’s important to watch videos of yourself to see what to correct and for the rest of the team to evaluate them too. That’s because, apart from being a well-established trio, we’re very good friends. We’re like a family.

C: We always have to be self-critical because sometimes I'm wrong, sometimes they get it wrong, but in the end the goal is for the team to perform well. That’s our strength.

Have you talked among yourselves about the possibility of refereeing the final, or is that subject off limits?

L: We don’t want to know. Let it be a surprise! Every match is a final, whether it’s a men’s or women’s game. You never know if there will be another one, so, whichever one it is, we’ll enjoy it like it was the final.

C: We always talk about it, but all we can focus on are the things that depend on us. And that’s the 90-95 minutes of every game. That’s when we leave everything out there like it’s our last game. We’re very happy as a team with the opportunities we’ve had, with how much we’ve grown during these weeks, with our dedication and with the confidence placed in us to officiate three matches.

What advice would you give to any young girls who dream of doing what you do?

C: When I’m invited to give talks in schools, I always use a phrase that is really a way of life: insist, persist, resist but never desist. If you have a dream, you have to work to realise it. There will be obstacles, but you have to show everyone that those obstacles are not going to stop you, but rather make you stronger.

M: You always have to dream but, for it to be fulfilled, you have to fully commit and give 100 per cent. I have two daughters and I always tell them that they should never stop dreaming, because it’s harder to get back something you give up on than it is to just continue fighting for what you want to achieve.

L: I'm a PE teacher and some of my students tell me that their father or mother won't let them play football. They grow up with those kinds of myths, but if they have a dream, I tell them to fight for it. We’re here now, which proves that all the effort can be worth it.

Female referees have demonstrated significant improvement over the past few years in technical and tactical aspects. I think this is a good opportunity for them to be in a men's competition and show their qualities. In their confederations, they don'...
Massimo Busacca, FIFA Director of Refereeing