By Martin Cleary
Carol Anne Chenard is returning to the FIFA Women’s World Cup, but you won’t see her on the soccer field in her traditional role as a referee.
A well respected and highly honoured FIFA referee for 15 years, she was appointed in January to serve in a new officiating capacity for her fourth World Cup, which will run from July 26 to Aug. 20 in Australia and New Zealand.
After overseeing the best female soccer players at 2011 World Cup Germany and 2015 World Cup Canada, Chenard was again appointed a referee for the 2019 World Cup France.
But days before she had planned to leave for the World Cup, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and was facing an immediate treatment schedule. Chenard was unable to travel to France for the eighth World Cup, which was likely to be her final time as an on-field referee at soccer’s major spectacle.
When the ninth FIFA Women’s World Cup opens in three months Down Under, Chenard will be nowhere near any of the soccer fields. But she will have her eyes regularly focused on specific games.
Chenard has been appointed one of 18 Video Assistant Referees by FIFA or as she prefers to be called a Video Match Official. For the first time in the history of the Women’s World Cup, FIFA has appointed female VMOs and there will be six women officials on the job.
As the World Cup plays out, Chenard will be located at the International Broadcast Centre in Sydney, Australia, closely watching the games and the calls of the on-field referees on multiple TV screens.
If she spots an action on the field she feels has been missed or miscalled by the referee, she will contact the official to indicate the play is under review. After she has made her decision, hopefully within two minutes as not to impact the flow of the game, she will inform the referee, who will make the ultimate final decision.
Under FIFA rules, Chenard and other Video Match Officials can only make a judgment in four areas:
· If there is clear evidence a referee has made a mistake on a goal;
· If a red card has been awarded;
· In the case of mistaken player identity, where the wrong player was assessed a penalty;
· If an action was a penalty or not a penalty.
As 2019 World Cup France played out and Chenard concentrated on her breast cancer treatments, she was hoping to still referee at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, which were staged in 2021. But that didn’t materialize for Chenard, who is healthy, able to travel and working today.
During her medical treatments, she received full support from Canada Soccer and CONCACAF and took soccer related courses. A Professional Referee Organization manager also contacted Chenard and asked her if she would like to train to be a VMO.
“Yes. I was interested. It was in the middle of COVID and I couldn’t travel to the U.S. But it was a potential opportunity,” Chenard said about reconnecting with international soccer.
Chenard started training for her off-field refereeing role in 2021, using a simulator, watching refs doing technical training at a camp and talking with her peers.
She has had 50 Major League Soccer and National Women’s Soccer League assignments to date. Since May 2022, a warehouse in Atlanta has become the headquarters for the MLS VMOs instead of individual team stadiums. Chenard huddles in her little, darkened room with two other officials to watch MLS games three to four times a month.
“You want to do it (a play review) quickly and efficiently, but you also want the right outcome,” Chenard explained. “You don’t want the game stopped for five to six minutes. The goal is under two minutes with ultimately the right decision.”
In 2022, Chenard was appointed a VMO for the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup in India as well as the CONCACAF women’s soccer championship tournament.
For 2023 World Cup Australia and New Zealand, Chenard hopes to do her job so well she will receive daily assignments and possibly playoff and medal matches. Chenard is familiar with that.
She was the referee for the women’s gold-medal match between Germany and Sweden at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics. In her World Cup debut at the 2011 championship in Germany, she refereed the semifinal between Japan and Sweden.
Her Hall-of-Fame resume of top-level officiating at the FIFA and CONCACAF levels also includes being appointed the referee for three other gold-medal matches: the 2014 FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup between Germany and Nigeria in Canada, the 2010 FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup between Germany and Nigeria, and the 2013 Algarve Women’s Cup between the United States and Germany.
Chenard’s final game as a referee was a NWSL match in North Carolina one week before she was scheduled to attend 2019 World Cup France. When she blew her whistle to end that match, it also signalled the end of her on-field career as a referee.
“With my cancer, I have ups and downs. There are a lot of unknowns. I’m still in treatment long term (medication). I travel and I work. I’m not complaining. I’m well. I exercise,” Chenard said in a positive tone.
“France was likely to be one of my last tournaments. I was 42 then and it was coming close to the end of my on-field career. I’ve made my decision to be a (VMO), where I’ll stay until I move on to a new role.
“I’m really excited I found a way to still be part of the refereeing team. That’s what I struggled with most, when I decided to step away from the field. I hope I can bring my experience (of 15 years) to the tournament … and support the ref on the field. I’m so happy and excited I found this role.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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