Monday 17 July 2023, 14:00

María Laura Fortunato: “I live for football and for refereeing”

  • The Argentinian explains why she fell in love with refereeing

  • Australia & New Zealand 2023™ will be the second FIFA Women's World Cup of her career

  • "After my family, refereeing is the most important thing," she tells

If there are any nerves or anxiety, María Laura Fortunato doesn't show it. About to take part in her second FIFA Women's World Cup after making her debut at France 2019, the Argentine is as clear with her words as she is with the whistle. "I'm much more prepared physically, technically and psychologically for this World Cup," the 38-year-old told And she intends to enjoy it, of course. Not just because of all the hard work it took to get to this stage, but for another, simpler reason: "Refereeing is my life. I live football, and I live refereeing. After my family, it's the most important thing I have," she added.

How much did her family have to do with her introduction to the world of football as a child? "Little or nothing. I always liked playing football, but I was on my own, because at home they weren't football fans," she confessed, still smiling. "When I was very young, I used to play in squares and parks with friends, but there weren't many clubs with women's football yet. When one was founded, I played for a couple of years, but then I switched to futsal until refereeing came along, and I fell in love with it," said the Buenos Aires native, who has been a FIFA international referee since 2010. It's such a love that she can't remember the last match she enjoyed as a fan. "I watch them all with the eyes of a referee. It's rare to detach myself from the profession. As soon as the referee calls something, I focus on what they might have seen, where they were standing, to ensure I keep learning.” What's more, she doesn't even mind when a friend or journalist contacts her with a regulatory question. "It's good, because they are almost always complex scenarios, which sometimes even make me doubt myself. They help me to reflect on what I would have done, and to clarify any doubts they have of course!"

Referee Laura Fortunato gives instructions during a 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup match

In this context, Fortunato reflected back on her career so far, including the one match she refereed at France 2019, when USA beat Thailand 13-0. "I’ve watched it back several times, looking for what I did right and wrong. I'm very self-critical. I don’t try to punish myself, but I constantly want to keep learning. Some criticism from outside can be harmful and hurts, but I believe self-criticism is key to improving too," explained Fortunato, who also officiated as fourth official in three matches at France 2019. Prior to her first FIFA Women’s World Cup, other career milestones had included refereeing at two FIFA U-17 Women's World Cups (2016 and 2018), at three Copa Americas (2014, 2018 and 2022) and two Algarve Cups (2017 and 2018). Following France 2019, it was her turn to then referee the first women's superclásico of the professional era in Argentina, in which Boca Juniors defeated River Plate 5-0. "To referee that game and on Boca's main pitch, was a huge source of pride, and very emotional. It was an important step forward for women's football, but also for refereeing. From then on, women as referees became much more visible.”

 Referee María Laura Fortunato and assistans enter the pitch with players of River Plate and Boca Juniors 

After adding an Olympic tournament to her resume at Tokyo 2020, the focus is now firmly on Australia & New Zealand 2023. After three preparatory seminars organised by FIFA for the entire match officials' group that will attend the tournament – two in Doha, and one in Montevideo earlier in 2023 – Fortunato has been training side-by-side with two fellow Argentinians who are also part of the FIFA team: assistant referees Mariana de Almeida and Daiana Milone. "We talk about football together all the time. Not only when we train but also when we share the pitch during games, which has happened several times lately. Communication between us is crucial. We have key words and identify situations that allow us to make decisions easier. Knowing each other so well helps a lot," she explained. With the kick-off of the tournament on 20 July fast approaching, for Fortunato, it is a huge source of pride to be involved. "Any referee would want to be at a World Cup; it's a very privileged position to be in. We have to respect where we are, keep learning day-by-day, and constantly ensure we give 200%" she concluded.