Chenard: From speed skater to player handler
Carol Anne Chenard has officiated at the Olympics and FIFA Women’s World Cup
The Canadian used to be a professional speed skater
Cancer caused Chenard to miss out on France 2019
Do you remember the look on Carol Anne’s face when confronted by a malevolent ghost on Steven Spielberg’s supernatural horror blockbuster Poltergeist?
A similar look of horror is sketched over the face of another Carol Anne as she watches speed skaters reach up to 50km/h, career around incapacious bends, slam into hoardings and suffer razor-sharp blades smashing into their soft flesh, transforming snow-white ice rinks into fright-film bloodbaths and, occasionally, leaving bones hanging out.
“I watch it on TV and can’t believe how crazy it is,” Carol Anne told FIFA.com. “I think they’re absolutely crazy to do it.”
Carol Anne Chenard’s last line was, therefore, a self-declaration of insanity. The Canadian was, indeed, a professional speed skater who won six World Cup medals and held once co-owned a world record.
“I was on the national team for just under five years,” said Chenard. “What I loved was, it was an individual sport, but the teamwork and the training together. The camaraderie to push each other to the next level.
“Some of my finest memories were the World Cups I went to. A team of ten athletes – five men and five women – away competing for three weeks.
“Short-track speed skating is a super exciting event. People watch it on TV and it’s really exciting, but if you ever get to be in an arena, you really get an appreciation of how fast they go and how tight the corners are. The adrenaline is crazy.”
Curiously, someone who had spent years in the adrenaline-rush world of speed skating elected to make her next sporting profession a judicious one. And yet it was the latter she considered “crazy”.
“I grew up playing soccer, basketball and volleyball,” said Chenard. “And I started at a very young age skating and did competitive swimming.
“In my first soccer game I think I was offside nine times, so the coach decided I was maybe not a striker! I would say what made me stand out on the soccer field was my running capacity and my endurance. It made me perfect to play central midfield.
“But I recognised my limitations at soccer. My athletic aspirations were on the speed skating side.”
“I kept playing soccer for fun and one day the coach on my team made us take a refereeing course so that we better understood the Laws of the Game. I then started refereeing house-league soccer.
“I didn’t imagine it could lead to something for a second. But somebody from the league wrote to the association and told them to come out and watch me.
“I really started to fall in love with refereeing. As my skating career was coming to an end, I was looking for a way to stay involved in high-level sport, to continue to travel, and soccer refereeing was the way to go.
“If you had asked me 20 years ago if I wanted to become a FIFA referee… Who would want to do that? That’s crazy, you get yelled at all the time. But I became a FIFA referee in 2006.”
Chenard rapidly scaled the ranks and was soon officiating at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™ and the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012. Then came the chance to oversee matches in her homeland at Canada 2015.
“It was pretty indescribable,” she said. “Refereeing at a World Cup anywhere is unreal – the atmosphere, the feeling you get when you step on a World Cup field is very different.
“But then you add to it that it was in my home country and the first game of the World Cup that I refereed was in Ottawa, which is where I live now. I was in front a number of friends and family, and even people I didn’t know would be at the games.
“So it was an opportunity for me to share my passion with friends and colleagues, but also to highlight what a great country Canada is, what great soccer fans we have. It was a really fantastic experience for me.”
Chenard, who also works for the Canadian federal government on the team writing and amending drug laws, was set to referee at her third Women’s World Cup at France 2019. Then disaster struck in the form of cancer.
“I was diagnosed four days before leaving for France,” she said. “A cancer diagnosis is scary at any time, but what made me most upset was that I was going to have to miss going to France.
“It was one of the first questions I asked my doctor: ‘Can we delay this for five, six weeks and can I go to France?’ They were pretty categorical that that was not the best option for me.
“Honestly, I was disappointed not to be there with my colleagues – we’d worked for the past four years towards the tournament. But I needed to make sure to put my health first.
“I was doing chemotherapy on the day of the World Cup kick-off, but I was there as a fan – a referee fan. Those are my colleagues, we put in so much work in the four years leading up to the World Cup, and I wanted to be their biggest fan even though I couldn’t be there.
“Then I was able to make it to France to watch the Final and cheer them on in person. That was really nice. My oncologist said it was against his advice, but I told him I didn’t ask for his advice! (laughs) I’m still undergoing treatment but I feel really good.”
The Summerside native is seemingly always looking on the bright side of life.
“I’ve been lucky enough to referee the likes of Birgit Prinz, Marta, the great US players – your Alex Morgans, Abby Wambachs. My first youth tournament was the FIFA U-20 . I refereed Argentina-France and Eugenie Le Sommer was a really big talent.
“Refereeing is kind of like the best seat in the house. Over the last 15 years, I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to be on the field with the best of the best.
“And being one of the seven women referees who went to the men’s [FIFA] U-17 World Cup in 2017 was a really unexpected appointment. To have the opportunity to participate at the tournament [as a support referee] and then to have Esther Staubli referee a game was really fun for me.
“I’ve been fortunate to participate in these game-changing events and to see the sport evolve. If you talk about the preparation for my first World Cup in 2011 and the preparation for France , it was very, very different. There’s a lot more opportunities, training camps, investment.
“As women officials what we always said is that we want to be seen not as a male or female official, but as an official. I think we’re starting to see that.”
This article is part of our new series 'Women in Football', in which we offer a different behind-the-scenes look at some of the protagonists of the women’s game. Next week we'll focus on influential referee Ingrid Jonsson.