"The future of women's refereeing is in your hands."

Cláudia Vasconcelos Guedes (center) with her lineswomen Linda Black (left) and Zuo Xiudi (right) prior to the 3rd place playoff between Sweden and Germany, in Guangzhou, China – 29 November 1991. © Phil Stephens Photography/FIFA Museum
Cláudia Vasconcelos Guedes (center) with her lineswomen Linda Black (left) and Zuo Xiudi (right) prior to the 3rd place playoff between Sweden and Germany, in Guangzhou, China – 29 November 1991. © Phil Stephens Photography/FIFA Museum

On international women’s day, we look back at a landmark moment in the history of refereeing. At the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991, Cláudia Vasconcelos Guedes went down in history as the first female referee to take the lead at a FIFA tournament.

"The future of women's refereeing is in your hands."

Those were the words spoken to Brazilian referee Cláudia Vasconcelos Guedes by a member of the FIFA referee's commission as she sat in the dressing room alongside her two lineswomen before the third-place play-off at the 1991 World Cup.

No pressure then!

Pressure, however, was something that Guedes thrived on. She was about to take the field as the first female referee at a FIFA tournament, the natural choice to be bestowed with this honour from the six lineswomen who had been selected to officiate at the first World Cup. Alongside her that day were China's Zuo Xiudi and New Zealand's Linda Black. History-makers all three, as the first all-female team to officiate in a FIFA tournament. they all responded with composed performances as Sweden beat Germany 4-0 to take the bronze medal, with Guedes keeping a firm hand on the tiller throughout. "I still remember many moments of that memorable day, from the moment I stepped onto the pitch to the moment I arrived back at the hotel," Guedes recalls while being interviewed by the FIFA Museum, "especially when I raised my arms to end the match with a deep feeling of duty done."

A duty done indeed, as it was a performance that strengthened FIFA's resolve to get fully behind the development of female referees. Nine months before the World Cup in China the FIFA Referees Committee had been faced with a stark truth that was highlighted in the minutes of their February 1991 meeting. "Some National Associations already have outstanding female referees," it stated, but added that "women could not be appointed as referees because there were none on the 1991 List of Referees." FIFA simply didn’t know who the best referees were and was reluctant to take any chances.

Referee Ingrid Jonsson is asking for medical support for China player Sun Wen (9), during a group match between USA and China, in Gävle, Sweden – 6 June 1995. © Bildbyran/FIFA Museum
Referee Ingrid Jonsson is asking for medical support for China player Sun Wen (9), during a group match between USA and China, in Gävle, Sweden – 6 June 1995. © Bildbyran/FIFA Museum

Female referees make the FIFA List of International Referees
By the time of the next World Cup, in 1995 in Sweden, the landscape had changed dramatically, such as the first inclusion of female referees and lineswomen in the official FIFA list. Of the 12 referees appointed for the finals, seven were women, including Ingrid Jonsson who in 1991 had run the line in the Final. In Sweden she broke new ground by becoming the first woman to referee a World Cup Final. And at the 1999 World Cup in the USA there wasn't a single man in sight!

Today, the work is ongoing to improve standards, but those making their way as referees now would do well to acknowledge the groundwork done by the brave pioneers like Guedes. It was a career built on the basis of much “struggle and dedication" according to Guedes. She started that career in 1983, only four years after the ban on women playing football had been lifted. 1983 was the year that a women's league was founded in her home town of Rio de Janeiro which coincided with her studying for a degree in Physical Education. "I was encouraged by one of my professors to take part in a course for the training of football referees organised by the Professional Association of Football Referees in Rio." Just a year later Guedes started refereeing matches in the Rio women's state championship along with boys’ games in the 12 to 17 years age groups. By 1985 she had graduated to control amateur senior men's games at the state level.

Her progress had encouraged others to follow in her wake, but when in early 1991 FIFA sent out a circular inviting member associations to nominate a lineswoman for the first World Cup, Guedes was the obvious choice for Brazil. The relationship with the governing body was not, however, always an easy one. She was left to her own devices to prepare for the 1991 finals and when in 1993 women referees became part of the set up at the Brazilian Football Association, the CBF, they were often regarded with suspicion. "The treatment dispensed to female referees was different from that of male referees, not only in terms of transportation to matches, where women used buses and men used aeroplanes, but also in terms of refereeing fees,” recalls Guedes.

A lack of opportunities
Even at the 1991 World Cup there was some initial reserve on the part of the male referees but that soon disappeared, and all six of those pioneering lineswomen featured in at least one of the showcase matches at the finals - the opening match, the third-place play-off and the Final. After refereeing at the 1996 Olympics, Guedes hung up her boots in 2000 at the age of 37, prematurely she says, but prompted by the lack of opportunities afforded her in the professional men's game. "The national refereeing managers did not give due recognition and value to the potential of female referees, unlike the others in football and the media, who always gave prestige to my work."

But she ends the interview on a positive note by saying the situation is very different now. And that really is the outstanding legacy of her career – she helped pave the way for those who followed in her footsteps.

 

In a new exhibit at the FIFA Museum, twenty intimate showcases, including one on Cláudia Vasconcelos Guedes, explore a selection of interesting facts about the duties of match officials and notable moments from refereeing history.