Europe’s female referees are stepping up another gear as they look to earn themselves a place in the referee team at next year’s UEFA Women’s EURO in England – and UEFA’s words of motivation are spurring them on: “Prove that you’re good enough to be there!”
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Jenny Palmqvist, the former Swedish referee who officiated at the highest FIFA and UEFA levels – attending two FIFA Women’s World Cups, three Olympic tournaments and two UEFA Women’s EUROs, as well as refereeing the 2012 UEFA Women’s Champions League final and 2009 UEFA Women’s Cup final second leg – has been leading the latest generation of European female referees through their recent online UEFA winter course.
To mark an important milestone – 500 Days to the Women’s EURO – Palmqvist, now a UEFA referee development panel member, spoke to UEFA.com about women’s refereeing, how the referees are keeping pace with the rapid development of women’s football… and the challenges that the referees must meet to book a place at a tournament that will take centre stage on the football landscape next summer.
UEFA.com: What were the key issues you discussed with the referees at their UEFA winter course?
Jenny Palmqvist: Our objective is to develop consistency in decision-making. We’ve been focusing on ensuring that the referee teams make the correct decisions in crucial match situations.
What technical instructions and guidelines did you give the referees for the second half of the season?
The focal point at the course was on emphasising to the referees that they should be prepared and ready to have the best angle and view to take correct decisions in the penalty area. Our objective is to develop decision-making consistency in various aspects of the game – handball, holding, denial of a goalscoring opportunity and challenges.
The course was another important step on the road towards the Women’s EURO. The hard work and focus on the tournament in England is under way…
Absolutely! Now, more than ever before, we have a strong list of elite and category one referees – and now is the time for them to show their skill, passion, decision-making and management abilities to secure a place in the EURO team.
As we move towards the Women’s EURO, is it fair to say that the potential and quality of European female referees has never been higher?
Europe’s referees are among the best in the world in terms of potential and quality, and we’ve told them to prove to us through their performances on the field that they deserve a place in the EURO team. We’d like to have a situation where our selection process for the EURO is as difficult as possible...
You’ve taken part yourself in major tournaments as a referee – how do you remember those experiences?
Tournaments are the highlights of a referee’s career, especially because we spend countless hours of training and preparation to get there. When you’re chosen to referee at a tournament such as the EURO, it makes all the sacrifices worthwhile when you walk out onto the field with the teams and hear the anthems played… and the memories you collect and the friendships you make are for life.
What impresses you most about Europe’s female referees today?
They’re making sacrifices and showing great dedication and commitment. They love refereeing, and they love football. The modern women’s game is changing rapidly, and they’re continually showing us how adaptable they are, especially in taking on new instructions, listening to and giving feedback, and learning about technical elements of the game, which enables them to deliver high-calibre performances.
Several female referees have begun to make their mark in the men’s game, for example, Stéphanie Frappart, who has taken charge of a UEFA Super Cup match, as well as games in the UEFA men’s club competitions. Several of her colleagues are also refereeing top-flight domestic men’s matches in their countries. How do you feel about this, and can their progress act as motivation to all female referees?
I believe all referees want to be judged just as referees; their gender shouldn’t come into it. The female referees who officiate in men’s leagues have the outstanding fitness, football understanding and game management skills that are the hallmark of all top referees – and they show that there is equal opportunity if their performances merit it.
You enjoyed a distinguished career in refereeing. What has changed for female referees since your refereeing days? What’s the difference between now and then?
Over the last ten years, players have developed in terms of speed, and their skill sets have increased. In addition, it’s clear that TV, media and sponsors have strengthened the awareness of women’s football. Coaching levels and standards are higher, and sports science aspects have come to the fore. I also feel that the gap in quality between teams in each league and tournament has become smaller, and we’re seeing a greater number of competitive football matches.
And with women’s football having made giant strides in recent years, technically and tactically, referees have had to keep pace with those developments. Are you happy with what you see in terms of their progress alongside the overall progress of the women’s game?
UEFA is very happy with the progress of refereeing in recent years. We’ve introduced the Centre of Refereeing Excellence (CORE) programme, in which promising referees – male and female – are given an insight into the requirements and training needed to become top-level referees. The programme has produced excellent results – a number of CORE graduates have become established top referees and, very importantly, they’re continuing to improve their tactical knowledge. These referees have benefitted from the investment made by UEFA and their national associations, and especially through the coaching and advice we give them at UEFA seminars.
Video assistant referees (VAR) have been introduced in the men’s game in the past couple of years. Where are we in terms of VAR in the UEFA women’s competitions?
VAR was already used at last season’s UEFA Women’s Champions League final, and will be used at this season’s final, as well as at the Women’s EURO in England. The recent UEFA VAR course saw female officials given VAR training as part of the preparation process.
After having reached the highest levels as a referee yourself, it must give you great satisfaction to be able to work with referees now and give them the benefit of your experience.
Yes, football has always been a passion of mine, and giving back my experience to referees who are breaking barriers now is proving to be very rewarding.
It’s been a tough time for all referees amid the restrictions and difficulties caused by the pandemic. Are you impressed with how UEFA – and the referees – have handled the situation?
The referees have been flexible and ready to take on assignments at short notice, even if they’ve had to contend with complicated travel issues and spend time away from home. I must say they’ve shown great professionalism to adapt to the situation and ensure a successful outcome to the matches.
What would be your message to Europe’s female referees going forward – in particular to those who are candidates for a place in the team for the EURO in 2022?
The competition is now less than 500 days away… and now is the time for each referee to show that they want to make the final selection. Every game is an opportunity to showcase their level of fitness, football understanding, game management and decision-making skills. We’re looking for referees to challenge themselves to be better than their last game. It’s essential that they stay open and humble on and off the field. Our EURO referees should be high-quality ambassadors for football, as well as role models who strive for the highest standards.
Finally, what would be your advice to a girl who might wish to take up refereeing?
If you love football, don’t hesitate to become a referee. Refereeing develops leadership qualities, the ability to take quick decisions, teamwork and communication. There’s another extremely important element to being a referee as well – you’ll have the opportunity to make lifelong friends and enjoy wonderful life experiences alongside being involved in a sport that you love…