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Interview with Juhi Shah - "Refereeing matches of a high standard consistently important to improve standard of football"

We spoke to Juhi Shah, a referee associated with the Bombay Referee Association, about the challenges that comes with refereeing, and how more opportunities can be generated for women to get into football more.

Juhi Shah (in green) – A player for Maharashtra and a referee associated with Bombay Referee Association

Juhi Shah is a post-grad in Sports Business Management from D.Y. Patil School of Business Management and also a referee associated with the Bombay Referee Association. She has played for the Maharashtra team on numerous occasions and in many tournaments.  

Her inspiration as a player is Abby Wambach, who is one of the most decorated female athletes not just in the United States, but also in the game of football. Professional referee Bibiana Steinhaus of Germany inspired her to take up refereeing and make an impact in the game of football.  In an interview, she discusses the future of women in the sport. 

What made you take up refereeing? Were you already playing football before you started refereeing?

I always had a dream to represent India in football. But the opportunities for a player from a state like Maharashtra were less. Getting recognized by scouts was getting difficult and at the very time when I felt like I was playing well and performing well, the national tournaments disappeared for 3 years.

Not being able to fulfill one of my many dreams, I felt like it was time to do something different. To do something that would #MakeItHappen. I consulted a friend of mine who was also a referee and very soon I gave my name and wrote my exam at Bombay Referees’ Association and started my refereeing career.

What has been your experience like so far? What changes have you noticed from the first match up until now?

I remember officiating my 1st match – a U-14 girls match at MSSA. I did not have a proper refereeing uniform yet, so I wore an orange jersey I had and started doing the match. I did not have any clue about how to run and what position to take. I knew only my basic signaling and hand gestures to give for fouls, throws, goal kicks, etc.

Now thinking of one of the most competitive matches I did, I officiated a friendly match between Pune FC and ONGC at Cooperage stadium. The match kicked off at 9 am in the grueling heat. Both these teams being I-league teams surely made the match very competitive.

Doing that match, I realised the difference between my first match and that match. My body language, the coordination with my assistant referees, the interaction with the players and coaches, everything seemed to be at a higher level than before.

It is always interesting to do men’s competitive matches at higher level, no doubt that doing women’s matches is what I need to do more as a referee but managing studies and the timing of matches gets difficult. I do my best to grab every women’s match that I can.

What do you think are the issues women referees in India face?

There was a time when we barely had any women referees in Mumbai. But going out of Mumbai for national tournaments made me realise that there are a lot of women referees across India but the major issue we all faced was getting enough matches to do. 

Every women referee in India cannot take up refereeing as a permanent job. It can only be a hobby. National tournaments take place only twice or thrice a year. Each tournament may run for 15-20 days, but after that they have to go back home. What do they do when they go back home?

Refereeing matches everyday can get very tiring. Also, many states do not have competitive women’s matches so they have to do with refereeing U-16 boys matches to help them improve. We need to encourage these referees by giving them more matches (even if it means refereeing boys matches).

Nita Ambani had mentioned the start of a League for Women like the ISL. Will that help the referees?

Her thoughts and plans for an ISL for Women will help improve the standard of football as well as refereeing in India. Referees would be able to officiate matches alongside other FIFA referees and learn a lot from them.

We would get to officiate matches of a high standard considering the fact that other international players would come to play this tournament as well.

#MakeItHappen is the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day. Would you like to say some encouraging words to other women by including #MakeItHappen?

We have to #MakeItHappen by encouraging more girls to take up football/ refereeing and thus improve the standard of football in India. We have got to #MakeItHappen.

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