The Reliance Foundation Youth Sports (RFYS), in collaboration with the All India Football Federation (AIFF), conducted a two-day technical preparation program for the Indian Women’s League (IWL) 2023-24 match officials at the Jio Institute in Mumbai on December 4-5, 2023. Attended by 24 referees and six match officials from six AIFF centres across the country, the workshop aimed at up-skilling the personnel, and thus enhancing their on-field performances for the upcoming IWL season beginning on December 8, Friday.
Conducted by AIFF’s Chief Refereeing Officer Mr. Trevor Kettle, the workshop involved assessing the qualities of the concerned match officials across various parameters and improving the same through one-on-one sessions with them.
The motive of the program was to take tangible efforts towards enhancing the participation of female referees and match officials in Indian football, so as to bring greater gender parity in the sport within the country, which symbolises one of the premier objectives of the on-going RFYS 2023-24 campaign as well. Up-skilling of female coaches and match officials is one of the key objectives of the current season. RFYS has been taking tangible efforts to increase the participation of females both on and off the field, with the introduction of the U-15 girls’ football category being one of the steps for the same.
One of the attendees in the workshop was India’s first referee to officiate in a FIFA World event (U-17 World Cup final in Jordan, 2016), Uvena Fernandes, who is also an Indian Air Force (IAF) official. A former India international footballer, Fernandes later got inducted in the IAF and has been an Air Traffic Controller (ATC).
Despite having been refereeing for two decades now, Fernandes continues to seek opportunities that can help her improve herself. “The topics that were covered in this session were very fruitful. We are learning what we haven’t learnt before. The IWL Match Official Workshop organised by Reliance Foundation and AIFF will immensely help upcoming referees in India. I would like to thank Reliance Foundation, AIFF and IWL for giving us this opportunity to be here and attend this program. I hope that more such programs take place for the benefit of female match officials in India,” she said.
Fernandes turned back the clock to recollect her initiation into the sport. She first started off as a player, representing Goa at the state level for nearly a decade before representing the Indian team in the 2003 Women’s AFC Championship. Her switch to the IAF meant that she couldn’t dedicate enough time to her playing career, which is why she switched to become a referee in order to continue being associated with the sport.
“I have been a mother for 10 years and a referee for 20 years, having started my career in that in 2003. I have been in the FIFA panel for the last 10 years and I am the first Indian to officiate any FIFA World Cup final match (U-17 finals in Jordan, 2016),” Fernandes said.
“I never planned to join the Indian Air Force (IAF). I had to go to the India camp, but I had an injury so I couldn’t go there. Thereafter, I had to go to the military base to officiate, and there I liked the entire way it was. I asked them how I could join the IAF or the Indian Army. They asked me to apply through the newspaper advertisements. I applied in both the Army and the Air Force, but the joining letter of the Air Force came first, so I joined them. I didn’t continue my playing career after joining the IAF, because I am an air traffic controller. So, I have to dedicate my time to my profession. But, I never gave up refereeing, because I wanted to be connected with football,” Fernandes continued.
A similar two-day workshop, attended by 32 officials and headed by Mr. Kettle, was held from March 23-24 in Kolkata earlier this year. That program was attended by referees from six AIFF centres, namely: Jamshedpur, Kharagpur, Aizawl, Hyderabad, Shillong, and Kolkata. Through such enterprising initiatives, Reliance Foundation continues to reiterate and act upon its commitment to act towards amplifying the presence and active involvement of women across sports.