Thursday 16 September 2021, 14:03

Pinto and Palma ready to break new ground

  • The two female match officials are set to make history

  • In a first for the FIFA Futsal World Cup, the pair will officiate the Spain-Japan game

  • They tell of their excitement and pride

“We had a hug and shed a tear together. It’s where we always wanted to be,” said Chilean referee Valeria Palma, recounting how she and her Argentinian colleague Maria Estefania Pinto reacted to the news that they would be taking charge of Friday’s Group E match between Spain and Japan at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Lithuania 2021™.

“We both know we have to do a good job,” they said. Appearing at their first World Cup as referees, the two are rightly proud to be making history. spoke to Pinto and Palma ahead of Friday’s game, when they will become the first pair of women to take charge of a FIFA Futsal World Cup match. How did you get into refereeing?

Maria Estefania Pinto: I’ve always been a huge football fan and I wanted to get involved in the game in some way. I tried to be a director of football but I was young and didn’t have any experience as a player either. So I started football refereeing, which I still do, and then I followed up with futsal.

Valeria Palma: I’ve always been involved in football and then futsal came along. I gave it up when I was 16 and got a job. I was offered the chance to referee, and here I am getting paid for doing something I love. Futsal is the most wonderful thing there is. I’ve fallen in love with the job and I don’t see myself doing anything else.

María Estefanía Pinto, FIFA Futsal referee

What was your inspiration?

Pinto: There weren’t many female referees around. We were lineswomen or assistant referees. I was really keen on refereeing, and if you get into futsal that’s what you do. I made the Argentinian Football Association’s (AFA) pool of futsal match officials, started refereeing, and along came this opportunity. I’m so thrilled.

Palma: The most important thing for me was being in love with the sport. That was what motivated me to do what I’m doing now. I’ve been at this for many years and to come this far is a dream come true and an objective fulfilled.

Have you stopped to think about it? What have you told your friends and family? And how does it feel?

Pinto: They’re all very happy. We’ve worked really hard to get here. It’s been a couple of years in the making and we have to thank everyone who believed in us and opened doors for us. We’re going to make the most of this dream come true.

Palma: It’s impossible not to be excited about it because it’s been many years of struggle. Every time I stop and think on the court I remember the hard work and the effort, training in the heat and the cold, being away from my family, and missing out on special occasions. It’s a dream and a very exciting one at that. My family are very proud of me. I do everything I can for them and for the people who’ve supported me.

Do you feel that you’re role models for younger women starting out in refereeing and aiming to go far?

Pinto: It’s a huge responsibility in that respect. The image we give in the match also depends on the image we give to other women. I feel the responsibility on me to get everything right and make the way head easier for them. This is only the start. More doors are going to open.

Palma: It’s a motivation for girls. We’re opening the way so that they can be considered for other tournaments. I’m keeping my feet on the ground but if there are other girls who want to follow us and are watching us, then it’s a huge motivation. It pushes me to do things well. If you work hard, you’ll get your reward and that’s what you’ll come away with.

Valeria Nicole Palma, FIFA Futsal referee

Is it a dream come true to take charge of a FIFA Futsal World Cup match?

Pinto: To get this far is what every referee aspires to. I’m happy, though you always want more. I wasn’t expecting this appointment. It’s taken me by surprise and we’re going to try and make the most of it. Refereeing this match is another dream fulfilled.

Palma: Yes, it is, and it’s a blessing and a dream to be with my colleague, compatriot, and friend. I never imagined I’d be making my debut with Estefania and I’m delighted to be sharing this moment with her. We were also the first female match officials to go to a CONMEBOL qualifier.

What’s the next step in your refereeing careers?

Pinto: Once you’ve come this far, you want more. They do a cut on 26 September and some referees will be going home. If you get this far, you want to stay on for the final. I’m not thinking about it, though. I want to focus on tomorrow and make sure everything goes well.

Palma: Getting this far is hard, but the toughest and most important thing is staying. My main objective is to do just that so I can keep taking part in big competitions. Like Estefania, I want to be in finals and to take the next step, but I know there are other colleagues with more experience and who are better prepared than us. It’s only our first World Cup after all.

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