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Interview with Nutan Dhanawade, WIFA referee - "Working with Maria Rebello in the National Games finals was a dream come true"

Nutan Dhanawade is a professional referee, who now works with WIFA. We spoke to her about her approach to working the whistle, and how difficult it is for a woman to referee men's matches.

Nutan Dhanawade, a professional referee who works both women’s and men’s matches

Being a graduate and having a job is one aim of life. But being able to officiate in a National Games Final with the likes of Maria Rebello (FIFA Referee) was a dream fulfilled for Nutan Dhanawade.

From having no knowledge of the game to becoming a composed and  confident referee, it has truly been an inspiring ride for this Maharashtra girl. She was kind enough to share some of her insights on being a referee in one of the most popular sports in the world.

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

I was an athlete when I came to know about refereeing from a friend. She told me that refereeing is very interesting and through it, I can stay in touch with my sports activities. That is when I decided to attain its training for 6 months. After completion of my training, I started to like it and to pursue it.

Wanting to do something unique, I made up my mind to become a referee. I never played football so I had no knowledge about it or its rules/laws. Now that I am an active referee, I enjoy it.

What has been your experience like till now? Right from the 1st match you refereed to your latest match.

The experience has been amazing so far and I have enjoyed every part of it. I started off as an assistant referee and remained an assistant referee for a year. Having faith in me, I was given the chance to be a referee for a girls tournament.

Looking at my talent and my confidence, I was appointed as a referee for the Junior National matches (Girls). I still enjoy being an asst. referee as well as the 4th official. Recently, I got the chance to attend the Senior National Games (Women’s). All these experiences have helped me enhanced my knowledge of the laws and also the quality part of my refereeing.

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

There are many issues that women referees face in India. People’s mindset is such that in spite of a woman referee giving the right decision, it is still argued upon and there is a constant effort to overpower the referee. As not many women’s matches are played, there is less exposure. 

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

It will be of immense help and it will also give us a platform to showcase our talent and skill. This will also instill awareness among women which will help Indian Women’s Football to grow by leaps and bounds. A platform like this also inclines the women of our country to take up refereeing as a career and excel in it. 

You recently represented WIFA as a referee at the National Games. What was your experience going there? 

As the tournament was of a different level and the players were thorough with the laws and rules of the game, it was easier to handle them. A high standard of discipline was maintained throughout the tournament. The organization and the arrangement also made it a worthwhile experience. 

You were selected to officiate the finals of the National Games alongside the likes of Maria Rebello. What did you learn from her? 

It was a dream come true. She is a FIFA referee and to do a match with someone as experienced as she made it worthwhile. I never thought that I will get to do a match with her.

Refereeing alongside her was a learning session about match etiquettes. I could see her handle the match temperament with such ease and by keeping a very cool head. It felt like I was officiating an international match, a really unforgettable moment. 

What do you find more challenging, refereeing women’s or men’s matches and why? 

Men’s matches are more challenging as they are more competitive and there is a faster pace to the game. There are more fouls and more chances of misconduct, which need to be looked at, hence it requires you to concentrate throughout the match.

#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?
Refereeing is not as tough as it looks. It’s quite a challenge and you will end up enjoying it too. Once you get over the fear it all feels easy. You find your identity and self- confidence once you start enjoying it. I would more women take up the challenge to become officials in men’s matches and #MakeItHappen.

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