Earlier this year, RSL Soapbox writer Andy Graff posted a possible solution for the better officials in professional matches in his article “Want better officials? Hire more women!” His premise was simple: Are we missing out on half of the officiating pool? Could we improve our referee pool by hiring, targeting, and developing more female officials?
He continued by asking:
Why does the list of PRO referees only contain men? There are women on the assistant referee list. Could some of them be on their way to the top level? Are there really no qualified female referees out there PRO could hire? Is men’s soccer so much more difficult to officiate that there needs to be a distinction? I very much doubt it.
And now it seems that, in addition to video replay, at least one US professional soccer league is willing to experiment with female referees.
On April 8th, Danielle Chesky, with five previous appearances as a referee in the 2015 season of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and seven appearances in the 2016 NWSL season including the one of the semi-final matches, picked up the ball and lead the Richmond Kickers and Louisville City FC onto the field at City Stadium in Richmond, Virginia. The match went relatively smoothly and remained scoreless with 16 fouls called and three players being shown the yellow card before a penalty kick was called and taken in the 81’ minute for the only goal of the game. The play involved is very reminiscent of the PK called in the RSL Colorado match last Saturday.
On Saturday, Ekaterina Koroleva, a member of the Pro Women’s Panel since 2013 and the FIFA Women’s Panel since 2014, will be the referee in the Monarchs’ fifth match at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Washington against Seattle Sounders 2 FC. Earlier this year, she was the referee in the USWNT match with Russia at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, as well as refereeing in a couple of matches at the Algarve Cup.
As seems to be endemic in all soccer leagues, referees are the frequently the focus of comment by players and coaches alike. Last September, Koroleva was pointed out by FC Kansas City’s head coach Vlatko Andonovski in the following comment.
“That’s a tough call; it’s 10 seconds before the end of the game, but that’s what a good referee does,” Andonovski said. “If it’s a penalty kick, it’s a penalty kick. … What that tells me is she (head referee Ekaterina Koroleva) doesn’t have the guts to call the tough calls. She’s done everything incredible until it comes down to the one tough call.”
Regardless of whether the inclusion of women referees leads to more popular acclaim for referees in general, the mere fact that a sport that prides itself on inclusion now has female referees in men’s professional matches on at least a semi-regular basis can only be applauded loudly and with a cheer of arrival. Bring them on... the more the merrier...