- Ingrid Jonsson was the first woman to officiate in the final of a FIFA competition
- As a FIFA instructor, she now passes on her knowledge to the next generation
- "I really love to see the improvement at different levels"
The FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ was held one year ago. The match officials for the tournament comprised 27 referees and 47 assistant referees – all female – from 42 different countries, while the only male officials were the 15 video assistants. It was a very different story at the first FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991, when just six female assistant referees made the trip to China PR. One of them was Ingrid Jonsson, who went on to oversee the Final between Norway and Germany in Sweden four years later.
"That was a great moment, of course, but the most exciting moment for me was the first World Cup in 1991," Jonsson recalled in an interview with FIFA.com. "I started refereeing in 1983. We had the first FIFA seminar in 1988 and we were waiting for something to happen on the international side. Suddenly at the 1991 World Cup in China they decided to allow six female assistant referees. That is really what I remember most, because it was the first time I was involved with a competitive international game," she explained.
"I had a son who was one-year-old when I left and everyone told me that I was crazy to leave a child that age for almost a month. It was such an incredible feeling. I did the Final of that World Cup as an assistant. After the match I went back out onto the pitch; everyone had already left, and I stood all alone in the middle of the field thinking, 'Why me? What did I do to deserve this?' The memory and feeling of that moment is stronger for me than the Final four years later."
In the 28 years between the first and most recent Women’s World Cup Final, there has been a great deal of progress in both the development of women’s football and the standards required of its match officials.
"If I compare what we were doing almost 30 years ago with what is happening now, it is so much more professional," the Swede explained. "At first we could only depend on ourselves; we did all the training, the theoretical study and so on practically alone. Today’s referees are given so many opportunities for all kinds of training, including on the physical side. They get the support they need," she said.
"We are still developing – just like the players – and we have the pace to match them. There are always areas for improvement but I think we are at a good level right now."
Now 60, Jonsson’s passion is to pass on her knowledge to the next generation and play her part in their training as a FIFA instructor. Her enthusiasm and love for the job soon becomes clear when talking to her.
"I was quite alone when I started refereeing," she said. "I was 24-years-old and was recruited as an instructor in my country almost immediately. I am a physical education teacher and have worked as a coach and instructor in many different kinds of sport over the years. When I stopped refereeing, I first had a request from UEFA asking if I wanted to join them for the Women’s U-19 Championship in Finland. While in Finland that summer in 2004 I got a call from FIFA, who asked me if I wanted to go to the U-19 Women’s World Cup in Thailand as an assessor," Jonsson continued.
"After that I became a FIFA instructor until 2012, before serving as a member of the FIFA Referee Committee for five years. When they re-organised, I was lucky enough to be able to return as an instructor. I have always been involved with teaching all kinds of sport, so it has always been wonderful to do that in football and refereeing in particular. I really love to see the improvement at different levels. I have the opportunity to be a mentor for referees at UEFA and to work as a FIFA instructor. It is amazing to be able to do this. I just love it."
It is precisely this love for her work that has enabled Jonsson to achieve the impossible and believe in herself even when hard work was required and there were no shortcuts to success – a nugget of wisdom that she also passes on to her students. She also believes it is important to emphasise the importance of officiating standards.
"The quality of the refereeing is the most important part," she explained. "Today’s players work so hard, they deserve to have a high standard of referee. I don’t care too much whether it is a man or a woman, I just want quality."
This article is part of our 'Women in Football' series where we take a behind-the-scenes look at influential figures. Next week, we will be focusing on Tempa Rosalie N’Dah from Benin.
Nothing is impossible. But it's not for nothing, you have to work hard for it. If you really want to achieve something, you can do it. But you have to invest a lot of work and really love what you do - otherwise it is not possible.