By Dan Plouffe, published Oct. 30, 2009 in Orleans Star
Whether it’s refereeing a FIFA soccer game in front of 20,000 people in South America, competing in speedskating championships in Korea, or simply coaching youngsters with speed dreams on the ice at the Bob MacQuarrie Recreation Complex – Orléans, Carol Anne Chenard packs just about every spare moment in her life with the two sports.
Following 10 years in Montreal – which started with the purpose of attending the Canadian short-track national team’s training centre, and ended with her completing a PhD in microbiology and immunology at McGill University – Chenard is now back in Ottawa to work for Health Canada full-time.
The owner of six World Cup short-track speedskating medals and a one-time world record holder in the 3,000-metre relay also juggles a career as an international and men’s pro soccer referee, while finding time to help out coaching at her home Gloucester Concordes speedskating club as well.
“The other day, a little kid came off and said, ‘That practice went by so fast because it was so much fun!’” smiles Chenard, who retired from competitive speedskating in 2002. “It’s great to see that kind of enthusiasm, seeing them enjoy the sport that I loved for so many years.”
Chenard’s mother Sandra runs the sessions for the youngest speedskaters at the Gloucester club. Sandra, as well as husband Guy, are both internationally-recognized short-track speedskating officials, so in a way, it’s natural that their daughter found a passion refereeing another sport that is equally well-known for controversy.
Now 32, Chenard started officiating as a teenager through the Gloucester Hornets and gradually made her way up through the ranks as more and more officiating directors would come out and watch her work games – much like an athlete’s path to success.
Chenard lists refereeing through to the completion of the under-20 women’s World Cup in Chile last year as her top accomplishment thus far, noting the excitement of being in those types of atmospheres that makes her enjoy the job.
“Who can say they’ve traveled to Portugal or Trinidad and Tobago and had the opportunity to stay there and referee top-quality soccer?” Chenard says. “I always joke that when I traveled with skating, it was always freezing cold. Now I get to travel to these beautiful countries where it’s warm all the time.”
With the good, comes the bad, and as anyone who has ever watched a high-intensity soccer match knows, the referee is never exactly beloved by all. Following the first leg of the USL championship series between the Vancouver Whitecaps and champion Montreal Impact, for instance, bloggers blasted Chenard over a controversial call – attacking her for everything from being from Quebec to being a female.
“It’s not an easy job, obviously,” states Chenard, who frequently gets asked why in the world she’d want to be a referee. “Every decision you make, there’s 50 per cent of the people that think it’s the right decision and 50 per cent of the people that think it’s the wrong decision – or if you’re in a big stadium, 95 per cent think you’re wrong and five per cent think you’re right.
“You just have to go out there and be neutral. I’m calling the game as I see it at the moment that I see it. I’m there to enforce the laws and ensure the safety of the players.”
Because everyone has their own opinion, Chenard certainly doesn’t put much stock in what fans say or think about her. And although there may be people out there who question her abilities as an official simply because of her gender, Chenard says she doesn’t really encounter sexism when she’s on the field.
“I don’t want to say that people don’t notice I’m a girl,” says Major League Soccer’s lone female official. “They do notice I’m female when I walk out in the tunnel. Sometimes it takes the guys aback when I walk out and I’m the one holding the ball and they realize, ‘Oh my goodness, she’s the one who’s going to referee.’
“But I honestly believe within the first five minutes of the game, they sort of forget I’m female and all they want is a referee that knows the laws, knows how to apply them and is there to step in when needed to protect their safety as well.
“If you’ve seen me referee, you know that they don’t treat me any different. I get yelled at just as much as everyone else.”
WORLD CUP GOALS
Just like all other officials, Chenard has to pass fitness tests to show she can keep up with the speed of play in men’s pro soccer and is evaluated after each match, which can then lead – or not lead – to future assignments for big games.
The next major competition Chenard has her eye on is the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany. She’s on the short list of potential officials at the moment, and feels ready for the highest level thanks to all the experience she’s accumulated.
“The more games you do, the more you figure how to deal with certain players and certain personalities on the pitch,” Chenard notes. “You’re really dealing with 22 different personalities, because no one reacts the same.”
Knowing how to manage differing attitudes is where Chenard sees parallels between what makes a good official and a good coach.
“Some ways of dealing with an athlete are going to work for one and not work for another,” Chenard says, contrasting someone who may need encouragement and another who needs to be left alone to focus. “You need to be able to judge that.”
Chenard’s present coaching schedule isn’t terribly demanding, and if she has a soccer game to referee, it’s fairly easy to convince her mother to cover for her.
“I’m just really excited to be back,” says Chenard, who put her speedskates back on for the first time in six years at the start of October and found her feet in lots of pain next time she refereed a soccer game. “I gave a talk when I first moved back to some of the young officials and that’s when I really felt like my life had come full circle.”