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.