Claudia Umpierrez set to referee at her second FIFA Women's World Cup in France
Referees both men’s and women’s matches in Uruguay
"The path to becoming a referee was and still is tough"
When Claudia Umpierrez came out onto the pitch shortly before the start of the group match between USA and Australia at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015™ in Winnipeg, she was overcome by emotions. On the one hand there was joy and pride that she and her team would be officiating the first FIFA World Cup game of their careers, but there was also gratitude and the knowledge that the hard work and sacrifices over the years had paid off.
"As the captains chose which end to play from, my career seemed to play out before my eyes like a movie," the Uruguayan match official explains. "I thought about how it had all started on a little pitch in my home town of Pan de Azucar, and then looked at where I was now – in a stadium in front of over 30,000 spectators."
Decades separated those two events, during which the 36-year-old put sport ahead of everything else. She had also had a child in that time, making it even more difficult for her to get back to the top of the pile and earn her spot at that match in Winnipeg.
"The path to becoming a referee was and still is tough," says Umpierrez, who will be taking part in her second FIFA Women's World Cup this summer in France. "I train in the morning, after that I work a seven or eight-hour-day as a lawyer and then also look after my daughter.
"If you asked me if I’d rather be a full-time referee, my answer would obviously be yes. But unfortunately that’s not possible, because I couldn’t put food on the table for my family in the country where I live if that were my sole profession."
VANNES, FRANCE - AUGUST 20: Referee Claudia Umpierrez talks to the players in the tunnel prior to the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup France 2018 Semi Final semi final match between England and Japan at Stade de la Rabine on August 20, 2018 in Vannes, France. (Photo by Alex Grimm - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
VANNES, FRANCE - AUGUST 20: Referee Claudia Umpierrez and the other match officials prior to the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup France 2018 Semi Final semi final match between England and Japan at Stade de la Rabine on August 20, 2018 in Vannes, France. (Photo by Alex Grimm - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
Umpierrez is nevertheless trying to make the very best of the situation, particularly since a life without football for her would be impossible to imagine. "Being a referee is my passion. To be a good ref, you have to be persistent, be able to make decisions and you can never give up."
"It’s important to establish clear lines on the pitch, but at the same time it’s the players who are the main protagonists, not the referees – that’s something we should never forget."
Since Canada, Umpierrez has also refereed matches in the top men’s divisions in the country, which improves her physical fitness – to such an extent that she has even taken on a strength and conditioning coach whom she works with on a daily basis.
"I would love to see more women refereeing men’s football," she says, citing the example of the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 that she took part in. "That was a milestone and great experience. It demonstrated what we women are capable of and that we can be counted on."
"Working in men’s football has allowed me to focus on my rhythm and my stamina and I’m reaping the benefits now, since women’s football has now come on immensely in recent years and got a whole lot quicker."
Umpierrez is of course looking forward to the FIFA Women's World Cup in France. "The 90 minutes of every match is what it all comes down to. You have all this preparation but that is the important part."
And when the whistle blows, Umpierrez banishes all memories and thoughts of the future to the back of her mind. All that counts is the here and now – namely a tournament on the biggest of stages that has the eyes of the world on it. And with every match, a dream comes true once again for the Uruguayan referee.