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Women in Match Officiating Left Inspired After Ontario Soccer’s Inaugural Female Leadership Day

By Staff, 02/08/24, 12:30PM EST


On February 3, Ontario Soccer held the first-ever Female Leadership Day for Match Officials, bringing women from all corners of the province together for a day of on-field and in-classroom development.

Play. Inspire. Unite.

As part of Ontario Soccer’s continuing efforts towards gender-equity, on February 3 we welcomed 19 Match Officials from across the province for Female Leadership Day. This initiative – the first of its kind – was hosted at Whitby FC and provided a congenial and inspiring learning environment for all women involved.

"The idea for this event came from David Barrie with his coming to Ontario Soccer and wanting to support Female Match Officials across Ontario. As a female referee myself, I was on board to support this initiative as much as possible knowing that this is a male-dominated area and the need for female Match Officials is crucial," said Sinéad Kappel, Coordinator, Match Official Development for Ontario Soccer.

Kappel was a key figure in planning Female Leadership Day, and she was able to reap the fruits of her labour: 

"It's one thing being on the back end and planning everything to the last detail, but participating on the field gave me a perspective of the experience the Match Officials go through when we bring them in. It allowed me to bond with our female Match Officials on a personal level and understand them better.”

The full-day event consisted of on-field and classroom components, giving participants a chance to learn from leading women in soccer. The cohort took to the pitch first, spending the morning rotating between stations focusing on denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO), stopping an attack (SPA) and penalty area movement, offside, fast transitions/foul decisions/teamwork, and injury prevention, form and explosiveness. The fourth station was led by guest physiotherapist Arianne Mason. Big thanks to Arianne for supporting Female Leadership Day and sharing her knowledge with our budding Match Officials!

Arianne was joined by Dr. Laura Cruz, Serena MacLeod, Dr. Tracy Vaillancourt, and Laura Formica who attended the event as guest speakers. These brilliant minds led the afternoon classroom sessions, discussing the importance of nutrition in training, mental performance, and Coach relationships. Thank you to all of our guest speakers for their thoughtful presentations and for devoting their free time to Female Leadership Day.

“Our leaders want us to succeed and there is so much support and kindness in the community despite the setbacks that come in every profession as a woman,” explained Nava Rajabi, one of the Female Leadership Day participants. “Furthermore, being a good referee requires more than knowing the laws of the game and being fit, it also requires poise, and mental fortitude. Having the luxury of being trained by National level coaches and referees, and educated by PhD educators was an absolute honour and delight.”

This initiative would not have been possible without the help of Instructors. We acknowledge and appreciate your dedication to supporting female Match Officials! Thank you, Lisa MacNeil, Nicole Pagliaro, Mike Smith, Gord Arrowsmith, Andrew Murty, Mark Roberts, and especially Lead Instructor Donia Torabi who was instrumental in organizing the on-field sessions.

“[The] female officials were so comfortable interacting with female instructors and coaches. It is a very different dynamic compared to our interactions with our male colleagues. It was the feeling of 'we get each other' and 'we are in this together,’” said Torabi.

“It is important to have events like this going forward to get the chance to discuss the things like mental performance and dealing with being a female referee in a male dominated field,” shared participant Alexandra Blower. “I'm so glad to get to be a part of this as I was often the only female at the table only a few years ago but having a female role model made it so I stayed in the game and continued to develop my referee skills.”

Ontario Soccer intends to offer more opportunities just like this, specifically for women involved in Match Officiating. As an organization, we strive to create spaces where girls and women can thrive in their craft and access whatever resources may be required to pursue their goals.

“Events like this create bonds, friendships, trust and relationships that help all stakeholders. It helps the referees, the instructors, and the organizers to understand one another and find ways to help each other grow for bettering us and for bettering the game,” Torabi added. “I strongly believe that events like this provide great opportunities for instructors, especially female instructors. Similar to referees, instructors need to practice regularly and put their skills to use. Only then we can improve and grow.”