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  Of women referees and kitchen sinks

Of women referees and kitchen sinks

Published : May 7, 2016, 6:07 am IST
Updated : May 7, 2016, 6:07 am IST

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

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.

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 games.

“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 second-division masculine games in her native 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.

World football body Fifa has 720 women registered as referees for professional football games — 324 main referees and 396 assistants. But of 209 national federations, 60 have no female referees registered, according to Fifa’s data.

The president of the Peruvian Referees’ Commission, Julio Arevalo, denied the system was sexist. Anyone who passes the tests set for male referees by Fifa and South American football governing body Conmebol can do the job, he said.

But when a woman does make the grade, an different challenge begins.

The worst insults from the stands come from women fans, Lixy Enriquez says. The male fans yell: “I want to take home the assistant.”

The reception on the field is not always better.

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.”

For women who make the grade, the psychological pressure can even turn to violence. “One player jumped on me when I gave a foul and he didn’t like it,” says Tatiana Guzman, a 28-year-old referee in Nicaragua, adding, “There is always the fear that someone foolish will do that. You have to be ready to run.”