February 23, 2020
HISTORY IN THE MAKING WITH WHISTLE-BLOWING WOMEN
The 2019 edition of Al Kass International Cup made history, when an all-female team of match referees took on officiating duties for each match. The experience proved to be the ideal preparation for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Finals in France, with 27 referees and 48 assistants descending on Qatar for their pre-World Cup preparations that included officiating at Aspire-hosted tournament. Pre and post Al Kass Cup, the women – who represented 42 countries - participated in workshops, training and medical examinations at Aspetar Hospital, which is part of Aspire Zone Foundation.
“The Al Kass International Cup was of great assistance for the preparation for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019,” says Kari Seitz, FIFA’s Senior Manager of Refereeing in an interview with Kennedy Makambira, from the Aspire Academy Marketing and Communications department. “In terms of facilities, we couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Seitz described the programme, born out of the excellent relationship between Qatar Football Association, Al Kass Sports Channels, Aspire Academy and FIFA, as a ‘super seminar’ which, in addition to on-field training, classroom lessons and fitness checks, afforded them the opportunity to test video assistant referee (VAR) technology for the first time.
“We brought the selected referees for a seminar, then were able to officiate the competition using VAR, as our first event with the system,” Seitz continues. “It was incredibly necessary in our preparation. As part of the groundwork for the FIFA Women’s World Cup we were seeking opportunities to use VAR in a full tournament, and at a high-quality level necessary to create many situations to utilise the technology. The Al Kass Cup provided all this, and it was an important opportunity for us. The result was a great success.”
Reflecting on her experience in Qatar, Seitz recalls: “First and foremost, the hospitality was excellent, and the tournament was very well organised and very professional. The quality of the football was top, and the support we received from the federation and the organisers was incredible. We could not have asked for a better experience, and we look forward to the opportunity to return to the Al Kass International Cup in the future.”
It has become fairly commonplace to see women officiating at the top levels of the game, and some of the world’s major football competitions - including the English Premier League, German Bundesliga and French Ligue 1 - now employ female officials. However, for some referees – including Salima Mukansanga from Rwanda - last year’s Al Kass International Cup provided a new experience.
“It was amazing and exciting, and happened to be my first time officiating an international men’s tournament featuring talented young male players,” she recalls. “Our aim as a team of referees was based on the mantra ‘Reach Higher’. With the Al Kass tournament, l was empowered, my confidence grew, and I was ready to face the senior FIFA Women’s World Cup when it came about in June.”
Mukansanga was grateful for the chance to put the latest technological developments to the test during Al Kass. “Before the tournament with regards to the new technology ‘VAR’, we had only seminars and courses on it,” she recalls. “But l then had a big opportunity to use it during proper live matches and wow, l learnt a lot about it.
“I could not have wished for better preparation for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. I know for sure that officiating at Al Kass allowed me to improve my adaptability, ability and technical skills, and gave me the strength to believe that l have the potential and the ability to officiate even men’s international football competitions. The Al Kass International Cup helped boost my self esteem and confidence, and l am grateful for that.”
Mukansanga went on to officiate at her first senior FIFA Women’s World Cup Finals in France that summer, taking charge of the clash between Sweden and Thailand. “I am glad l had the experience at Al Kass before the World Cup,” she says. “I learnt that refereeing approaches are the same - management of the game, control, laws application and interpretation - and this will serve me well in future.”
Riem Hussein from Germany also took on refereeing duties in Doha last year, and says she was hugely enriched by her participation in the tournament. “Officiating at the Al Kass International Cup was great for me,” she reveals. “My highlight was the first match live on TV with the assistance of the VAR on a magnificent sports ground. This way of officiating was one of the most important experiences for me.”
From an organisational and technical perspective, Hussein believes that the Qatar-hosted tournament was the perfect preparation for last June’s Women’s World Cup. “The football at the Al Kass International Cup was played on a high level,” she says. “The players were very fit and ambitious, and created a lot of interesting situations to evaluate. In terms of concentration, decisionmaking and teamwork, this tournament prepared us very well. The set-up where we were appointed in fixed trios to the Women’s World Cup worked brilliantly, as we could use the experience in the demanding matches to work together and get more practice for our teams.
“The World Cup stage is intimidating at any time, but in the Al Kass Cup l found a highlevel tournament that had its own fair share of intimidation. l used all this in a positive way to test the serious cases of refereeing in Doha without being so much in the focus of the wider world at the World Cup.”
Kate Jacewicz from Australia, Anna-Marie from New Zealand and Laura Fortunato from Argentina were among the referees who sang praises of the Al Kass tournament and enjoyed officiating the matches whose standard of football they found to be high. The trio of them however underscored the opportunity to practice using VAR as the most important take-away from Al Kass Cup. “The big opportunity to use VAR during proper live matches proved of immense value when we got to France for World Cup says, Fortunato.
Since its inaugural edition back in 2012, the Al Kass International Cup has become a world-renowned youth competition that has been at the forefront of several groundbreaking advancements. In 2019, the tournament scored two firsts - the implementation of the VAR system and an all-female team of officials in charge of an all-male football competition. The Al Kass legacy – in terms of the development of both players and officials – is plain for all to see.