As Tahiti’s Tiki Toa starred on beach soccer’s biggest stage with a courageous run at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Russia 2021™ last month, the nation was also represented in the tournament’s match official ranks thanks to Aurélien Planchais-Godefroy.
The 40-year-old referee, who hails from Faa’a, earned five appointments at his first World Cup, including being selected as first referee for the Group A match between Japan v USA.
“My experience was crazy. I never thought that it was possible,” Planchais-Godefroy said.
“In Tahiti beach soccer is very popular and it was an honour to represent my country at the World Cup.
“I felt great pride after each match as I received messages of congratulations and encouragement from the referees of Tahiti, my friends and my family.”
A football referee since 2014, Planchais-Godefroy took up beach soccer officiating in 2016 and officiated at both the OFC Beach Soccer Nations Cup and Beach Soccer Intercontinental Cup in 2019.
While he headed to Moscow, Russia on August 12 for the World Cup, Planchais-Godefroy’s preparations began months earlier in May and included taking part in virtual conferences organised by FIFA, which focussed on the technical aspect of match officiating.
“That part was sometimes difficult because it was in the early hours of the morning for me in Tahiti (2am-5am) and in English, which is not my first language,” Planchais-Godefroy said.
“During the first week in Moscow we worked hard with FIFA instructors. We had the best conditions to work in.
“There was good spirit between all of the referees. I learned lots from experienced referees like Sofien Benchabane (France) and Gionni Matticoli (Italy) and I met some really good guys.
“Now I hope to be able to share my experience with young referees in Tahiti.”
OFC Head of Refereeing Kevin Stoltenkamp acknowledged the hard work of Planchais-Godefroy, which ensured he was ready to officiate at the highest level despite the challenges presented by COVID-19.
“With no OFC beach soccer events able to be held since 2019 due to the pandemic, it’s a credit to Aurélien that he had the commitment, dedication, professionalism and drive to continue on with his training and ensure he was mentally and physically prepared to perform,” Stoltenkamp said.
“The chance to be part of a World Cup was a great reward for this outstanding match official.”