Monday, April 12, 2021

Vision of equality fueling Seitz’s mission to elevate women referees

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  • Kari Seitz is FIFA’s Head of Refereeing, Women

  • A pioneering referee, she’s now focused on taking officiating to the next level

  • She talks about her vision of true gender equality in refereeing across the globe

Kari Seitz’s first experience as a referee was absolutely terrible. Why she kept coming back to it, she can’t articulate. Sticking with it, though, has led to an incredible career on the field, and now off it too, as FIFA’s Head of Refereeing, Women.

Kari started officiating at 14 years old. Her first assignment was a U-12 boy’s game and the fans and coaches behaved badly. For some reason she came back for more.

Soon after she was invited to a youth tournament, where she officiated another U-12 boys’ game. At 11-0, a player rugby tackled an opponent, grabbing him, dragging him down and tearing the whole shirt off his back. She didn’t hesitate to give the red card, but the fans – mainly adults – went crazy and she had to be escorted off the field by security.

At this point, she assumed she had made a terrible mistake. Contemplating the end of her career before it had even begun at home that evening, she got a call from the tournament director inviting her back the next day to do the final. He was impressed with her decision-making and courage to do the “right thing”.

Thirty-six years later, Seitz is now FIFA’s Head of Refereeing, Women. She took time out of her schedule to chat with about how refereeing has formed who she is as a person, what makes a great referee, and her vision and goals for women in refereeing at the top level. When did you realise that you wanted to become a top-level referee? What was that moment like?

Kari Seitz: In 1994 the FIFA World Cup came to the USA. I was sitting at the midfield line at the opening game in Chicago. When the referee walked out on to the field, I will never forget it. I said, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to be a World Cup referee.’ It didn’t occur to me or even cross my mind that there were only men. I just knew I was going to dedicate myself to become a World Cup referee. Essentially the FIFA World Cup in 1994 set my life’s course.

How much has refereeing formed who you are as a person?

The truth is, refereeing has been very formative to who I am as a person. When I got my first job out of college (Seitz was an advertising executive for 27 years), I had already been refereeing for many years. I graduated with a pool of people with the same degree as me. Within a year I had already been promoted, while it took my peers several years. I attribute that to refereeing. As a referee, you have to be accountable, responsible, a people manager, apply teamwork and have courage to take decisions. All great skills for football, for life and for work. Even simple things like looking someone in the eye while shaking their hands and projecting a sense of confidence – all those things helped me in my job. It helped me mature a lot faster and be successful in my work.

What makes a great referee?

You must have a sense of justice and fairness . . .

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