The presence of Venezuelan official Emikar Calderas Barrera at UEFA Women's EURO 2022 is another example of the outstanding cooperation between UEFA and CONMEBOL.
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Referee Emikar Calderas Barrera makes her UEFA Women's EURO debut this evening, officiating the Group A fixture between Austria and Northern Ireland in Southampton.
One of 13 referees at the finals, Calderas Barrera is the only one who hails from outside of Europe. Her involvement is a product of the longstanding mutual relationship between UEFA and CONMEBOL, the South American football confederation, and the fulfilment of a professional ambition.
"It’s a dream come true," she smiles. "I'm very motivated and looking forward to doing my best.
"It’s all about experience - it’s a very high standard of football and it will really benefit me a lot for following tournaments, but also for my personal development as a referee."
The UEFA-CONMEBOL partnership saw Argentina’s Fernando Andrés Rapallini officiate at EURO 2020 last summer and Calderas Barrera is delighted to be following in his footsteps.
"That was really emotional for me because I thought: 'One day, there will be a South American woman referee who will experience that too,'" the 32-year-old says. "I’ve always dreamt of being there at any time, and I think that now my chance has arrived, I’m very glad about it.
"This relationship and feedback between UEFA and CONMEBOL allow us to get to know different cultures, people, refereeing styles and football styles. I think it’s very positive."
From South America to Southampton
Calderas Barrera's own footballing journey began as a little girl. She played throughout childhood, eventually attending a refereeing course, where she admits, "it was like love at first sight."
She took charge of her first game in 2010 and has since risen through the ranks in her home nation and on the international stage, taking part in the Arnold Clark Cup, a warm-up tournament held in England earlier this year, as part of her preparations.
"I decided that I wanted to become a referee and from that moment I started my training by refereeing mostly men’s football, because in Venezuela there aren’t many women’s football matches," she explains. "I started refereeing grassroots teams, then I moved up to the third division, then to Segunda B, then to Segunda, and finally in 2016 I got the chance to referee in the first division. Since then I’ve been refereeing in the first division."
Relationships new and old
Her experiences, and those of compatriot Migdalia Rodríguez Chirino, who is among 25 assistant referees at Women's EURO 2022, have piqued the interest of their fellow members of the team of officials, with plenty of ideas and observations already exchanged.
"They’ve given me a great welcome. They’re very nice and caring. They usually ask me if I’ve understood everything or if I need something. I’d imagined that the situation would be completely different, but I’m very glad of the way they have welcomed me," she says.
"We talk about football a lot because the styles are very different: the levels of physical contact, the strength, players’ power, but you must manage the game. That’s very important.
"When I refereed at the Arnold Clark Cup, I realised that here [in Europe] players don’t usually complain; they don’t say anything. It was very positive for me and it confirmed that I was doing a good performance."
There has also been a reunion with a refereeing friend, Marta Huerta de Aza of Spain, with whom she shares a native language.
"I actually met Marta in 2019 in the World University Games in Italy," she says. "We forged a great friendship and we’ve then crossed paths on several occasions, and also with other referees in FIFA."
Calderas Barrera will have little time to dwell on events in England over the next three weeks, with another global assignment at the FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup in Costa Rica to follow next month. You can be sure, however, that when she finds time to relax and unwind, she will be able to reflect on the summer of a lifetime.