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From Curiosity to Passion: FIFA Assistant Referee Dreams of the World Cup

Date: 
Thu, 12 Oct 2017

From Curiosity to Passion: FIFA Assistant Referee Dreams of the World Cup

It was a critical match between Jordan and Iran at the Women’s Asian Qualifiers for the 2012 Summer Olympics in March 2011, and Iran had just scored an important equaliser. The Jordan coach and the home crowd were incensed at the assistant referee for ruling that there was no offside offence. She was trembling from the pressure, but stuck to her decision – which ultimately proved to be accurate. Her call meant that Iran topped the table, with Jordan settling for second in the end.

Six years on, the incident has become something that Singapore assistant referee Rohaidah Nasir can look back on as an unforgettable start as a FIFA Assistant Referee.

Rohaidah took the Referees Basic Course in 2004 at her then-football coach’s recommendation, after he was inundated by her questions on the Laws of the Game. While the basic course was “fun”, she admitted that translating the theoretical knowledge to the actual game was not easy.

“I didn’t know how to give out yellow cards at first. My mind went blank at my first game. It’s the same for everyone – when they’re new and they don’t know what to do, they’ll panic.”

Perhaps due to her competitive streak, the 34-year-old did not let naysayers nor her own self-doubt get her down despite not enjoying refereeing initially. Like many referees who took up the course while they were players, she preferred playing the game to enforcing its laws.

When asked what made her continue refereeing when many other women referees have hung up their whistles, the 2015 ASEAN Football Federation Assistant Referee of the Year (Women’s) credited the refereeing community.

“The other referees have always been very supportive and helpful, especially when I first started. Even when I made mistakes in my first couple of years, they would still come up to me after the match and encourage me in front of the players. They are the ones who encouraged me to stay and continue refereeing and it has become a passion now.”

It is this passion that has carried her forward to many international appointments – most recently to the Asian Football Confederation U16 Women's Championship in Thailand where she officiated at two group-stages matches, a semi-final match and the third and fourth placing match.

The outgoing official has been to China, Japan, Bahrain, and even Palestine to officiate matches. Through the overseas assignments, she has formed a tight-knit circle of referees from ASEAN nations.

“Being a referee has allowed me to meet different people from very different backgrounds. I keep in contact with several other ASEAN referees and we keep each other updated on conferences and tournaments. The most exciting part is getting to know people from countries like North Korea and Palestine – people whom you rarely encounter,” she enthused.

Locally, Rohaidah also officiates as a main referee at both men’s and women’s matches. From 2008 to 2011, she also officiated as an assistant referee in S.League matches.

“Initially the players weren’t really used to having a woman referee – it was the first time they were seeing a woman referee at a men’s match. But I just focus on doing my work well.  It feels good when you are able to manage and control the game and nobody complains.”

After it was made compulsory for women referees to also pass the men’s S.League referees fitness tests, she focused on officiating at other matches such as Prime League and school games instead. But having experienced officiating at the elite level in Singapore, Rohaidah is determined to pass the fitness test pre-requisite in order to officiate in the S.League again.

While she takes pride in being one of the few women officials in the sport, she feels that anyone looking to take up the Referee Basic Course has to be ready to take on some challenges, including overcoming pressure from players and coaches as well as keeping their fitness levels up.

Luckily for Rohaidah, toggling between her three roles as player, coach and referee means that fitness is not a problem for her. In addition to the three to four local matches she officiates at in a week, she plays in the Arion Football Academy B team which competes in the Women’s National League and recently started coaching at the National University of Singapore Sheares Hall. She also coaches and plays touch rugby.

However, of all the three roles, refereeing is still her favourite. She said: “Refereeing changed me a lot. I used to be very quiet, timid and shy. But being a referee, you have to learn to be courageous and to manage people. As a referee, you will face 22 players on the pitch as well as the coaches. I’ve built my confidence through these experiences and it has made me grow as a person.”

She names 2016 S.League Referee of the Year Sukhbir Singh and former FIFA Referee and Assistant Referee Abdul Malik and Jeffrey Goh as some of the referees whom have guided her in her journey. She also describes FIFA women’s referee Abirami Naidu as her “best buddy”, having known her since she started refereeing, and travelling together often for overseas assignments.

Listing Rohaidah’s “never-give-up attitude” as key to her achievements, former FIFA referee Abdul Malik said: “She has a dream of reaching the top and works very hard (to achieve it). For us as senior referees, our duty is to assist her in whatever ways we can. Her positive attitude is such that she will take whatever you tell her in good spirit and receive feedback positively.”

As she dreams of officiating at the FIFA Women’s World Cup one day, she hopes for more women to join her and Abirami in “breaking boundaries” and overturning the notion that women cannot be referees.

“It’s hard to retain women referees. They leave for various reasons such as family commitments, choosing to focus on playing or are unable to meet the fitness requirements. But I believe that women can do whatever men can do,” she earnestly explained.

Being a referee is not a bed of roses, but as Rohaidah has demonstrated, the reward is worth the while. The next Referees Basic Course will be held in November 2017, and registration opens on 9 October 2017.

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