Carol Chenard started out on the road to becoming a referee when her coach at Canadian club Gloucester Hornets enrolled the team for a course, the idea being for them to get a better grasp of the game and the difficulties faced by match officials.
“I’ve been refereeing since I was 16,” the former player, who will be on duty at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™, told FIFA.com. “I started refereeing children’s games, just as a way for me to put a little extra money aside for college, but I enjoyed it so much and I got such good feedback that I decided to put more into it. And in 2006 I became an international referee.”
The chance to officiate at Germany 2011 is a dream come true for the 34-year-old and will add a new dimension to an international career that is already studded with achievement. Asked to pick out her favourite games to date, she is unequivocal: “The semi-final of the U-20 World Cup Chile 2008 between France and Korea DPR, which was also a racism awareness day, and the final of the U-20 World Cup Germany 2010 between the hosts and Nigeria.”
We’ll be refereeing the greatest women players in the world on the best possible stage. It’s the fulfilment of a dream.
Hailing from Ottawa and a qualified microbiologist, Chenard works for the Canadian health service and is grateful to her employers for being flexible enough to allow her to pursue her medical and refereeing careers at the same time. And given the fact that she officiates in the Canadian men’s professional league as well as in major international games, juggling the two is no easy task.
“You have to handle a men’s game in a different way to a women’s match,” she explained, comparing the varying challenges she faces on the pitch. “They react in a different way and you have to approach the match and the way you communicate with the players from another angle.
"I suppose you could say I use different parts of my personality for each one, though they both like to test you out at the start of a game and that’s when you need to show your confidence and your worth as a professional. I think it’s easier for me now because I’ve got more resources and experience to draw on, and I know how to handle each situation.”
As Chenard goes on to explain, being a referee involves much more than keeping fit and knowing the rules. “Just like athletes we need to go through our mental preparations, because you never know what might happen in a game and you have to be ready to handle whatever situations come up," she said. "You’ve got to concentrate 100 per cent for those 90 minutes and make decisions all the time.
“One of the most important things is getting your concentration back when something happens. Once you’ve made a decision you can’t go back or have any doubts about it. You need to keep going, stay sure of yourself and handle the pressure, and all while keeping an eye on your assistants too.”
Handling criticism is part and parcel of being a referee these days, and no matter how strong officials are mentally, the support of family and friends is always appreciated. “At tournaments other referees are your best prop because they’re the only ones who really understand you," Chenard continued. "The support of your family is crucial on a day-to-day basis. My parents are just fantastic and my poor sister has seen more games in her life than she ever would have liked.”
So what is her worst refereeing nightmare? “Any match situation in which a bad decision on my part can affect the result,” she answered. “Referees are perfectionists. We always want to get it right, but that’s not possible, especially with the speed you have to make decisions at.”
Once you’ve made a decision you can’t go back or have any doubts about it. You need to stay sure of yourself and handle the pressure, and all while keeping an eye on your assistants too.
In fact, the modern game is so fast and such is the level of concentration demanded of referees that she is rarely able to enjoy a game: “There’s no time. You watch the game in a different way. You’re watching the ball, checking your position and looking out for everything that’s happening on the pitch, watching the play in a different way to the fans.”
When she has not got a whistle in her hand, however, the Canadian official likes to watch a lot of international football. As well as broadening her knowledge of other styles of play, she also picks things up from her fellow match officials, who, incidentally, hold her in very high regard.
“We’ll be refereeing the greatest women players in the world on the best possible stage,” said Chenard in reference to Germany 2011. “It’s the fulfilment of a dream. We’ve been working together as a group of referees for a long time now. We’re friends and colleagues, and we’re strong and ready for the challenge.”