February 08, 2019

Al Kass Creates History With All-Female Refereeing Roster

The eighth edition of the Alkass International Cup is playing a valuable role in preparing match officials for the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

Referees who will officiate in France in June are currently in Doha undergoing training and attending seminars and conferences, and they are also gaining valuable experience in taking charge of matches involving sides from a range of countries and continents, which will assist them ahead of this summer’s global tournament.

The training seminars, hosted by Qatar Football Association, have been attended by 75 officials, but this is the first year that Alkass has used all-female officiating teams. Indeed, it is the first time worldwide that an all-female team has taken charge of a men’s tournament, and it is providing essential practice ahead of the Women’s World Cup.

Pierluigi Collina - Chairman of FIFA’s Referees Committee and arguably the most famous match official in history – has been heavily involved in training the referees, and has also watched them perform at the Alkass event this week.

Kerry Seitz is responsible for the FIFA Woman Refereeing Project for the Road to France. Explaining the role Alkass is playing in assisting preparations for France, she said: “The referees who have been selected to officiate at the Women’s World Cup are attending a seminar at Aspire this week. We’re using the Alkass competition as a part of our training process, so it works out really well.”

“We have this really world-class competition with top teams from all around the world taking part. We’re also testing video assistant referees (VAR). These officials are assessing - we are assessing - whether we are using VAR for the Women’s World Cup. It is great to be able to test VAR in live games.”

Seitz has been impressed with the performance of the referees this week, saying: “Everything has been very positive. The officials are adapting really well. The only leagues in the world using VAR are men’s leagues, so most of these women do not have exposure to it. This is our second seminar with VAR, and they are learning incredibly quickly. Ultimately, it is being used in the way it’s supposed to be, which really is as a tool only when there is an obvious mistake, not for every situation. So, minimal use but maximum benefit is the idea.”

VAR has already come into play several times this week, leading to goals being disallowed, penalties awarded, and even a penalty decision being changed to the awarding of a free kick, but Seitz admits that not everyone is in favour of the technology.

“We have a situation in which the football community really still needs to learn and better understand how and when VAR is used. This will take a little time, but people will see the advantages. The 2018

World Cup in Russia was such a success, and the benefits of VAR were very clear. It was also used at the Asian Cup recently and people would say it was a great success.”

“The FIFA Council will decide in March how we proceed, but clearly if you read the feedback from the World Cup in Russia, the announcement is that VAR is the future.”

Those officiating in Doha this week have been international referees for many years. But Alkass has provided an opportunity to officiate live high-quality games with video assistant referees. Seitz said: “We don’t want to see a lot of difficult situations, but the opportunity to test the referees is something we’re always looking forward to - real life situations. As for the quality of the teams and the actual games themselves, we have referees who do their top division’s men’s football in their country. It’s an opportunity to fine-tune. We’re always learning, always improving – that’s the mentality of referees, so the opportunity of such a tournament is great for us.”

Seitz believes female referees are proving more than capable, stressing: “The skills it takes to be a very good referee are the same whether you are a man or a woman. You have to read the game, you have to understand football.”

“We often face a little bit more of a challenge as women, because culturally people don’t necessarily expect women to play a leadership role and so, when they see that the official knows what they’re talking about, people just forget and move on. That’s been our experience here at this tournament. I think they’re surprised to see a female official, then the game begins and nobody thinks about it again. It’s not important who they are, just that they perform well.”

Explaining the selection process for France, Seitz said: “It is solely based on quality on the pitch. It is very competitive. We started with over 300 people, now we are down to 75. It’s very exclusive to be part of this ‘club’ and they earn it. This is all through hard work. And the number of events depends on the year, how many competitions, how many seminars that we host. This year, before we start the World Cup in June, we have four different activities for the officials.”

Seitz, an American, has been very impressed with the facilities at Aspire, saying: “I always heard about the quality of the facilities here at Aspire. I heard that they’re fantastic at this particular venue. So, people prepare you. It’s amazing, you can’t wait until you see it and still I am impressed. They spare no expense, the football pitches are amazing, the indoor pitch that we’re using is incredible, so while you hear about it, it’s not until you really see it that you can understand the quality of the complex, and what Qatar has to offer for football.”

“They are building it in a strong way from the bottom. Bringing in local people to build the future. It’s just an amazing facility and it is being done in such a way that you can see the professional approach, for instance in how such a youth competition is put together.”

Football in Qatar has seen a massive spike in popularity since the country won the Asian Cup for the first time last week, and Seitz believes this interest will intensify as the 2022 FIFA World Cup gets ever-closer. “Winning the Asian Cup is something that they should be really proud of. It’s an incredible accomplishment, and I am very excited about what it means for football in this region, and especially Qatar, as we are working towards the World Cup.”