Tongan assistant referee Lata Kaumatule and New Zealand referee Anna-Marie Keighley and Kiwi assistant referee Sarah Jones made history in Vanuatu this week when they became the first females to officiate at a men’s OFC Champions League finals event. Kaumatule was on the touch line for Solomon Warriors Lupe Ole Soaga match on Wednesday. The New Zealand pair, who have officiated at three women’s World Cups each, had strong games during the tense, exciting and action-packed 2-all draw between Ifira Black Bird and AS Pirae at a packed Freshwater Stadium in hot and humid Port Vila. Keighley and Jones sat down with OFC media to reflect on the major milestone.
OFC: How was the experience?
Anna-Marie Keighley: “It was a great opportunity for us to keep building towards the FIFA Women’s World Cup (in New Zealand and Australia this July and August). Football at the Oceania level is another step in our pathway and it’s different from what we’re used to at home, different from women’s football and different again when you’re refereeing in the islands when it’s really hot and physically draining. Overall, lots of new experiences and a great opportunity to continue working and developing the craft of refereeing.”
OFC: Did you feel a sense of occasion going into the game?
AMK: “To a degree. Every competition and every tournament there’s a weight on your shoulders that these are important games and vitally important for the teams competing. It’s a Champions League and there’s a lot riding on the games for these teams. The fact it was the first time we were at a Champions League was nice to be recognised but, at the same time, it’s not too much more. We’re going out there to referee a football game, that’s the main thing.”
Sarah Jones: “I felt really excited to be there yesterday, walking out, taking it all in, embracing the moment. Obviously we’ve never been there at that level before so it was a really cool opportunity to be able to do that and soak in everything – the atmosphere, the heat, the fast pace of the game, the different situations that we experienced during the game.”
OFC: You often work together – is that important, building that relationship?
AMK: “Absolutely. To know how each other operates is really important when certain situations happen, what we’re looking at when players are going into challenges. The more time we can spend operating and working together in challenging situations in different games, the more we’ve got to fall back on in the heat of the moment. Sarah knows how I operate, I know how she operates and that definitely helps build that team dynamic.”
SJ: “We’re able to support each other more when we know the other needs assistance – a help with a call, encouragement, motivation.”
“You’re always working towards…keeping it fair, protecting the players, making sure the spectacle of the game and the football is the highlight.” – Anna-Marie Keighley
OFC: How much do you communicate during the match?
SJ: “We’re always communicating. As an assistant if I have information that can be helpful to the referee I’ll tell the referee what I’ve seen – for instance a foul out of the referee’s view. I’m constantly stating ‘fair challenge, fair challenge’ or saying ‘fair play’.”
OFC: How do the male players treat you?
AMK: “To be fair I think they treat us just as they do any other referee, they kind of treat referees all the same. Coming into football at the Oceania level I wasn’t sure how I would be taken because different countries have different relationships with how they treat females. But yesterday was fine, just like any other game in terms of how they interacted with me. Nothing special.
Sometimes I think, depending on individuals and how they treat women generally, it works to my advantage because I can be a motherly figure or speak in a quieter tone in a bid to subdue the enthusiasm and testosterone flying around. I guess it’s a balance.”
SJ: “We go out there and show them we know what we’re doing, make the decisions that matter, get the calls right, let them play on when it’s just contact and they respect us as referees. They know we can do the job.”
OFC: With so much on the line yesterday, that match was tense…but you kept a lid on the potential explosiveness.
AMK: “That’s what you’re always working towards in a match when there’s a lot riding on it… keeping it fair, protecting the players, making sure the spectacle of the game and the football is the highlight and not other things. Just making sure you’re calming down players, you’re able to have a quiet word or issue a quiet reminder to keep the emotion at a stable level, pull the fouls when you need to, just keep it as tight as possible and get the big stuff. When random things happen you’re on it. And I think we did that as a crew yesterday. We were on it when we needed to be to make sure what everyone is talking about today is the football and nothing else.”
“We go out there and show them we know what we’re doing, make the decisions that matter, get the calls right, let them play on when it’s just contact and they respect us as referees. They know we can do the job.” – Sarah Jones
OFC: Do you feel you’re breaking a glass ceiling?
AMK: “I guess to a degree. I probably haven’t thought about it too much but, for sure, it’s the first time females have refereed at a Champions League finals tournament so I’m pretty proud of the opportunity we’ve been given and the fact we’re here and there’s another female in Group A as well. We’re demonstrating that females can operate in the men’s game and we can be role models for other women around the Pacific. Female football is growing a lot in all parts of the world and certainly in the Pacific. Hopefully we can inspire some more women to get involved in refereeing and prove it’s okay to be out there refereeing among men and we can do it and gain a level of respect. So I guess a really proud moment, yeah.”
OFC: Do you have enough opportunities in New Zealand?
AMK: “For sure. We’ve been involved in the men’s game in New Zealand for a number of years now and this isn’t the first time in a men’s competition in OFC, but definitely in the finals championship stage it is, so we’ve definitely been supported in that sense and been given opportunities where we’ve worked hard to prove we can operate at that elite level.”
(Tonga’s Lata Kaumatule who was an assistant referee for the Solomon Warriors match against Lupe Ole Soaga in Luganville Photo Credit OFC Media via Phototek)
OFC: What are your goals in refereeing? What do you still want to achieve?
AMK: “We’re both heading to the FIFA Women’s World Cup and I’d love to be involved all the way through to the end of that tournament. Like any official going to those landmark world events your goal is to be around at the end of the event and still be involved actively on the field. My sights are set high, but, in saying that, just being involved in our third women’s World Cup is a privilege.”
SJ: “Absolutely stoked to be going to a third women’s World Cup and, like Anna, I would love to be there at the end – together! I’m just focused on getting physically and mentally prepared, so I can show that I’m ready for it, I’m an asset, we can work just as hard as anyone in the world…and that we’re just as good and deserve to be there at the end.”
“Hopefully we can inspire some more women to get involved in refereeing and prove it’s okay to be out there refereeing among men.” – Anna-Marie Keighley