- Melissa Borjas the first woman to referee a game in the Honduran men's top flight
- Officiated at the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015
- Next objective: France 2019
The careers of many female international footballers have started out the same way: by playing alongside boys because there were no girls' teams available. Melissa Borjas is no exception, even if her role in the game is rather different now; she is a referee, not a player.
"One of my uncles was an assistant referee, so I have it in my genes so to speak," she told FIFA.com with a smile. "I used to just play football for fun, to enjoy the moment and chill out with my friends. But my uncle started to ask if I wanted to try refereeing, saying that I might like it."
The fact that Borjas became the first female referee to officiate a match in the Honduran top flight – La Liga Nacional de Futbol Profesional de Honduras – shows just how right he was.
"It was a really big gesture from my federation and the refereeing department to give me the opportunity," the 31-year-old said. "Before I started my 'domestic' career, I was already a FIFA referee and had international experience at FIFA tournaments, CONCACAF tournaments and international friendly games - but nothing in my own country."
That all began to change thanks to the influence of social media platforms: "People began to ask online: 'Why is Melissa so important outside Honduras but not at home? You have to give her a match. Then we'll see what the difference is and why she's so great in the international game.' So the federation gave me the opportunity and I got my game. Afterwards, there was no doubt among my colleagues, instructors and on social media that I could stay in the top division."
Borjas' hard work has also paved the way for other women to follow in her footsteps into refereeing, even if she does not consider herself to be a role model. "I don't like being the centre of attention," the likeable Honduran said modestly. "But if I can involve more women in refereeing, so be it. For me, that's great."
She much prefers focusing her attention on her own role as a referee and the decisions she has to make out on the pitch. For as is the case among all officials, Borjas constantly needs to prove herself time and again.
"There are always some players that try to intimidate me," she said, smiling. "I'm never disrespectful to players. I just stop talking, as if to say: I'm not discussing things with you anymore. I'm a respectful person and you're not.' Strangely enough, when I stop talking they start to figure out how they should behave."
Borjas is also well aware that her fitness levels are subject to intense scrutiny: "When I make a difficult decision they say: 'Hey Melissa, you were in midfield so how can you make a decision for something that happened inside the penalty area?' So I reply: 'I wasn't in midfield, I'm right here behind you. Why do you think you have to question my decision? Do you think I'm not fit enough?' Sometimes referees are fitter than the players. It's funny. Obviously men and women are different but it always comes down to your fitness first and foremost. We prepare for that. Just look at some of the exercises we do at our seminars. It's tough. But you have to be ready."
Being prepared for the next challenge is indeed crucial, and is a habit that will stand Borjas in good stead ahead of her next aim of refereeing at the FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™.
The most special game of her career
"I'll never forget my first game at a World Cup. It was at Canada 2015, Ecuador against Japan. It was a really nice surprise to receive the appointment for the World Cup. I'll never forget that match because I was the first Honduran referee – male or female – to take charge of a World Cup game."