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How female football referees deal with sexist remarks like 'I want to take you home'

Female football referees in Latin America have to cope with such chants from men’s players

LIMA (Peru): A rough tackle, the whistle blows and a foul is given. “Get back in the kitchen!” the player yells at the referee.

It’s one of the kinder things male players have said to Melany Bermejo, one of the rare women referees in the macho world of Latin American football.

FIFA referee Melany Bermejo of Peru prepares to officiate a match in Lima, Peru, recently. Peru has 22 FIFA-affiliated referees of which eight are women. pic/AFP
FIFA referee Melany Bermejo of Peru prepares to officiate a match in Lima, Peru, recently. Peru has 22 FIFA-affiliated referees of which eight are women. Pic/AFP

Shoving, spitting, flirting
Shoved, spat at, insulted and flirted with on the field, she and a handful of other women are nevertheless close to the top of their profession in men’s football. “You have to make double the effort a man makes,” says Lixy Enriquez (42) an assistant referee in Mexico.

Bermejo, a 37-year-old PE teacher, has served as referee at Div-II masculine games in Peru. Like most of her female counterparts around the world, she has yet to break into the top league, where so far women serve only as lineswomen or fourth officials.

There are exceptions. In Uruguay, Claudia Umpierrez (33) made her top-flight debut in February as a referee in men’s games. In Venezuela, Emikar Caldera and Yersinia Correa have been refereeing such games for three years. Outside Latin America, Gladys Lengwe of Zambia is among the very few women to have reached the top level as a referee. In Ukraine, Kateryna Monzul is expected to do the same. Peruvian Referees’ Commission chief, Julio Arevalo, denied the system was sexist. The worst insults from the stands come from women fans, Lixy Enriquez says. The male fans yell: “I want to take home the assistant.”

Sexist comments
When Virginia Tovar became the first woman to referee a top-league men’s match in Mexico in 2004, the star player Cuauhtemoc Blanco reportedly yelled at her: “Go and wash the dishes.”

In Argentina, referee Salome di Iorio says players have asked her to take down their phone numbers when she gets out her notebook. Others just spit at her.

The pressure of verbal abuse turns it into a psychologically and physically challenging job. “Some players don’t want female referees and are not adapting to the idea,” Peruvian referee Johanna Vega says. “I am very serious when I come onto the field,” she adds. “You have to be a psychologist”to put up with the insults.

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