There are two great passions in Krystyna Helena Szokolai's life: animals and football. The 32-year-old veterinary surgeon began refereeing in 1988 in her home state of Victoria, Australia, and became a FIFA International Referee in 1999. Since then she has officiated in competitions as varied as the Asian Cup, the Pacific Cup and the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship Canada 2002. And next month, Krystyna will be handed the honour of refereeing at one of the greatest sporting spectacles of all: the Olympics Games in Athens.

Check the full list of referees for the Olympic Football Tournaments. ( Men  and  Women )

"I'm overwhelmed by this honour and delighted to have been included in the list of referees for Athens 2004. Being chosen alongside two of my fellow Australians makes the distinction even better. It's not an individual accolade but a collective one, which I share with my personal trainer and two close colleagues who have followed my career closely and encouraged me from day one. They were with me through the good times and bad, through the gruelling pain of those never-ending training sessions and kept advising me all along the way," Krystyna told FIFA.com.

 "What's more, this should give a real boost to refereeing at local level and help attract more people into the profession at the grass roots. It also sends a clear message to other aspiring women referees: 'If you believe it, you can achieve it'," said the young Australian, who organizes her day methodically to ensure her refereeing commitments do not impinge on her obligations at the veterinary clinic.  

When she weighs up the pro and cons of her refereeing career, Krystyna is adamant that it has all been worth it. "I've been extremely fortunate in my career, and despite the time away from friends and family, or personal interests that have taken a back seat, I don't regret for one moment the sacrifices I've had to make to get to where I am today." And her partner can empathise with her; he shares her passion for the game and is also a practising referee. 

Experience and preparation
"I imagine that my participation in Japan at the Asian qualifying tournament for the 2004 Olympic Games helped my cause when it came to selection. Above all, I'd say my performance in the semi-final between Japan and North Korea probably swung it for me," Krystyna said.

 

Szokolai, in action.
(FIFA.com)
Leaving aside her selection for the Athens Olympics, Krystyna says the highlight of her career to date was when she was given the honour of refereeing the opening game of the inaugural FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship between hosts Canada and Denmark. "There were some 35,000 spectators there and they behaved impeccably which really made the tournament. It marked my arrival on the international stage and will always have a special place in my memory," she said.

Krystyna follows a strict fitness program, which involves three 60-minute outdoor sessions and two weightlifting sessions every week - on top of her refereeing duties, of course. At the end of the day, though, all her effort has been worth it. "The opportunities that I have been afforded by FIFA and the OFC have changed my life. I'm fortunate to have travelled widely, and learned about new cultures, while all the time sharing the experience with some wonderful colleagues. The friendships we've formed go far beyond the days we spend working together." So positive has her experience been, that Krystyna would not hesitate to recommend a similar career to other young women.   

When asked what qualities were essential for good refereeing, the young Australian replied: "First you need an in-depth knowledge of the spirit and the Laws of the Game. Then you must have the courage to apply them fearlessly and without favouritism or partiality. Above all, though, you must be willing to express yourself in every game."