She runs an advertising agency with offices in San Francisco and Seattle. She plays the oboe. She loves cycling. And as if that were not enough, she is also about to take charge of the first game at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™. The lady in question is seasoned American referee Kari Seitz, who is about to officiate in her fourth world finals.
“There have been some big changes since I started refereeing, and FIFA has done a lot of development work,” the US official tells FIFA.com. “For example, at my first World Cup in 1999 I didn’t know any of my colleagues. Now we work in four-year programmes and we all know each other really well. The final selection is based on the abilities of each official, on their experience and their recent performance, and all that development work is reflected on the pitch.
“When I started out I had to organise my own training sessions,” she continues, “but now we’ve got specialists laying down the guidelines, and our physical conditioning is so much better now. I’m 40 and coming to the end of my career, and even so I’ve just run my fastest sprint, which proves the point.”
Making the sacrifice
Kari, who will be in the middle for the Nigeria-France game on Sunday, has to make time to fit in her refereeing commitments. Her job as an advertising executive is a demanding one and her schedule hectic. On call virtually round the clock for her clients, she is grateful for the support and understanding of her loved ones: “It’s hard to fit everything in. I use my holidays just to attend football tournaments, and I’ve only been away with my husband once in the 19 years we’ve been married. It’s a big sacrifice but it’s worth it. I’ve got the rest of my life to do other things.”
So deep runs her love of the game that even when she hangs up her whistle at the age of 45 she intends to stay involved in one way or other. “I’m going to carry on in another way, but this is a passion I can’t give up,” she says with a deep sense of conviction in her voice. “I want to help others as a way of thanking all the people who have helped me.”
Also a veteran of two Women’s Olympic Football Tournaments, Kari believes that refereeing has helped improve the quality of her life away from the workplace. “You need to have a lot of self-confidence to be a referee,” she explains. “You know you’re not always going to get things right, but you do everything you can to make the correct decisions. You learn to accept criticism and not let it bother you. You need to make that distinction: people are criticising what you do, not you as a person, and you need to be strong to deal with that. It’s also taught me to make decisions and take responsibility and I’ve carried that over into my job. I don’t waste time reading the papers and gratuitous criticism. I only pay attention to really worthwhile comments, from the experts and our instructors and the like.”
So what are her goals for Germany? “To make as few mistakes as possible and for them to be minor ones. Nobody’s perfect, as they say. We take each and every one of the decisions we make very seriously because we know they can have a big impact on the game. Once you’ve called something you have to have the confidence to carry on with the match and not let it bother you. That’s the hardest thing: not letting your doubts get the better of you.”
Though the day-to-day routines may have changed, to Kari’s mind the essence of international refereeing remains the same. “There’s much more to refereeing than just applying the Laws of the Game,” she says, before listing her three key ingredients for a successful career in the middle: “Commitment, concentration and a firm belief in justice.”