Maria Rebello has made it a habit of breaking the proverbial glass ceiling: from being the first Indian woman to officiate a mens football match to being only the second Indian to be included in Asian Football Councils elite referees list.
Now,she is set for another achievement. Maria is on her way to become the first woman to officiate a match in the I-League after the AIFFs Referees Committee included her in the panel for the 2013-14 season.
Maria captained India for a brief period. While the trend for former players is to dabble in coaching,Maria had other ideas. I wasnt going to be happy sitting on the sidelines and shouting out instructions. This gives me a chance to be on the pitch, she says.
Hailing from Curtorim in South Goa,she cut her teeth refereeing the mens games in local leagues before landing a role at the national level. Over the years,she has learnt enough to ensure that the aggressive,foul-mouthed players do not intimidate her. Men always lose their temper. They dont care whether a man or a woman is the referee. They are not very soft and it is a momentary rush of blood. Players are not well-versed with the laws of the game so we have to make them understand politely and whenever there is a need,flash the yellow and red cards, she explains.
Being a player helped. And she claims to easily spot when a player is faking an injury. I know those tactics now. Ive witnessed and used them as a player, she says sheepishly. Were taught how to deal with these things .
In a country that is seeing a decline in refereeing standards,Maria has kept on making rapid strides. Lack of womens games nationally meant she had to officiate more of mens games. However,a woman referee officiating a mens match has often attracted a lot of scrutiny. During an EPL match between Liverpool and Wolves in 2011,a controversy erupted after allegedly sexist remarks made by a commentator against assistant referee Sian Massey. Maria,though,isnt perturbed by such notions. There are many women who have taken charge of mens matches so its not something new. Even in India,the number of women who are keen to take up refereeing is increasing,and that is a positive sign, she says.