Referee Anna-Marie Keighley continues to break new ground with her appointment to the FIFA U-17 World Cup an historic first.
Keighley is one a handful of female match officials set to be involved in an all-men’s tournament of the highest level for the first time, and the New Zealander is taking the honour in her stride.
You have been included as one of the first female referees to ever take part in a FIFA men’s tournament, how does it feel to be part of such a historic moment?
It is such a great honour to be included in this tournament and share with the other amazing female referees in this historic moment. It is great to see the speed at which women’s refereeing is developing and a privilege to be part of that journey and history.
The female referees have all been listed as support referees for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, what is the role of a support referee and how involved are you expecting to be in the tournament?
As a support referee, we will likely be fourth officials on matches. This requires us to manage the technical areas and support the appointed referee throughout the match. We will also be expected to be fully involved in tournament life. This includes both physical trainings and theoretical sessions that occur all throughout the tournament.
You have plenty of experience of refereeing at international level but mainly in the women’s game, are you anticipating any differences in officiating at a men’s tournament and how will you go about meeting those challenges?
The experience I draw on from prior international competitions coupled with the opportunities I’ve had in men’s football gives me a good base to work from to meet the challenges of this tournament. I have been lucky enough to officiate at the Dallas Cup for a number of years as part of the NZF development programme for referees. In these opportunities I have been able to referee a number of male matches which ranged from U-16 to U-19 age brackets. The teams at this competition are competitive club teams from different parts of the world and so this exposure will assist in helping me to have some insight into the different mentalities of football that I may come across. I have also had support in my development through involvement in the OFC men’s U-17 qualifiers in 2015. So with these experiences I feel I have some knowledge to draw on to understand the dynamics of male football. However, as with all FIFA events there will be the usual challenges of a new environment and the ever-evolving pace and tactics of the game which will require the usual focused preparation, both physically and mentally.
You officiate in both men’s and women’s matches at domestic level, are there many differences and what are the key ones?
Within New Zealand, the difference is speed and skill. The men’s domestic league is played at a faster pace, with more physicality than that of the women’s game. This can be attributed to the fact that unfortunately many of our top female players have to go off shore to get exposure and so this diminishes the quality and subsequently the level at which the women’s game is played.
Where does the FIFA U-17 World Cup fit in your development and what are the long-term goals you are working towards?
This is another opportunity to continue to learn and develop both my understanding of the game, as well as the interpretation and application of the current laws. Being involved assists in my preparation for the next FIFA Women’s World Cup to be held in France in 2019. And the goal is always to go one better, so to be selected for the tournament and then being involved in the final would be a dream come true.
Interview courtesy of New Zealand Football