Calling her the odd man out on the football pitch would be improper. If Maria Rebello stands out, it is because she is the only FIFA certified woman referee in India. And she also holds the distinction of being the only woman in the panel of referees for the 2013/14 I-League season.
Maria is the only woman from India who figured in the list of referees released by FIFA last week.
Being a woman in a game that’s dominated my men surely isn’t easy, but Maria feels that gender isn’t important. “It’s my job. As long as I do my job perfectly, it doesn’t matter. There are quite a few men who don’t know the proper rules of the game,” said Maria.
Asked if she gets taunts when she gives a crucial decision, she said, “As referees, we are used to it. But we are trained not to be bothered by what people say. If we think it’s the right decision, we give, no matter what.
“If you listen to people and give up, then you make the people win against you. I like critics but hate hypocrites. I like criticism for it’s helped me a lot in my life. Nothing is difficult in this world provided you are mentally and physically fit. You need to have courage to win against all odds”.
A former footballer, Maria captained the Indian women’s team in 2001 that participated in the AFC women’s championship in Chinese Taipei. Though they lost in the group stage and she retired soon after that, the desire to keep in touch with the sport made her enrol for a refereeing course.
Born and brought up in picturesque village of Curtorim South Goa, Maria started playing football at an early age, with the boys from her village. She spent her school days playing playing in the paddy fields with makeshift goals. “Playing there is what helped me become rough and tough that enabled me to become the footballer I am. My parents support was instrumental in me taking up football as a profession, she states.
Did she ever imagine she would get so far? “I just wanted to do my job well and knew that my hard work would pay off. But getting so far is something I didn’t envision though I secretly hoped for it.”
She did her training with the Bombay Referees Association (BRA) and then joined the Goa Football Association to ply her trade. She officiates the in all the local leagues and inter-village games. “First people used to be vary of me, but over the years I’ve built a name for myself and now the respect me,” she said.
The fact that India doesn’t have a women’s league is something that hurts her the most. “The AIFF said that they are going start a league for women, and I think that will be the greatest initiative for women footballers.”
The U-17 World Cup in 2017 is something that she looks forward to more than anything else and feels it’s going to be a football explosion because of that. But sadly, she remains sceptical whether she would officiate in the tournament. “FIFA usually gets men to officiate such tournaments, but I hope they make an exception. There’s still a long time for that though,” she says.