She officiates, she scores

Canadian referee Carol Anne Chenard is doing her part to put her country on the soccer world’s map.

by Benjamin Makuch

While Canadian soccer fans found little to cheer about during their countrywomen’s disappointing last-place showing at the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup of Soccer in Germany, the tournament did offer a note of solace for soccer-mad Canucks. Carol Anne Chenard, BSc’01, PhD’08, offered a saving grace of sorts for this country’s worldwide footballing credibility. The sole Canadian referee selected to work at this year’s World Cup, Chenard oversaw the semi-final match between Japan and Sweden, and was part of the officiating team for the quarter-final game where Japan, the eventual champion, earned a stunning upset victory over heavily favoured Germany.

In her profession, Chenard is considered among the elite, refereeing top MLS and USL matches and, as a mark of a truly great referee, has even been assigned highly coveted championship games like the 2009 USL Final. During that match Chenard, after a controversial call, earned the ire of Vancouver Whitecaps fans along with the often brutal stadium abuse any referee can attest to. She kept her composure and carried on.

“A hostile stadium is part of the job, you have to be able to focus on the task at hand, and be able to refocus very quickly if something unexpected happens,” she says, demonstrating the same type of steadfast confidence which made her one of FIFA’s picks out of a pool of 110 officials worldwide for the World Cup in Germany. Once at the tournament, referees could expect to face raucous crowds as large as 50,000 strong, and with the potential for that many vuvuzelas wailing, you have to be an intensely focused individual in order to do your job.

Like the world-class players she runs among during games, Chenard is a serious competitor, a trait she honed as a former member of McGill’s speed skating team.

“I still consider myself an athlete and I think top level referees have to approach their life like an athlete would. I believe everything I experienced as an athlete helped prepare me for my refereeing career,” she says, adding that top-calibre referees make the same commitments to mental prep work and training as athletes do. “The foundation about what it takes to be at the highest level and stay there, the dedication it takes, the planning and execution, I learned from the very beginning.”

And the path to becoming a member of an exclusive global club of referees hasn’t been as easy in a country like Canada, as it would be in, say, soccer mad Brazil or England. As Chenard explains, things are only just starting to improve.

“Living in such a large country with the weather that we have can be difficult for referees. Our season is much shorter than most countries… I think Canada’s referee program has done well in the last five years to overcome these issues. What is imperative to referee programs is getting good quality games for the referees.”

Thankfully, Chenard says, that’s starting to happen. Just as burgeoning Canadian soccer players are starting to filter into intensive academies setup by the MLS, those same teams are giving new referees the opportunity to ref high-standard matches. “In the past four years, Canada has put teams into Major League Soccer as well as other professional leagues. The more teams playing top level soccer, the better for the referees. Nothing beats experience.”

Chenard joins a long list of Canadian soccer stars who have, against the worldwide perception of Canadians as soccer weaklings, established herself as true global performers. Owen Hargreaves is a Canadian defensive midfielder for Manchester United, Jonathan de Guzman an attacking star at Spanish side Mallorca, and referee Héctor Vergara, who officiated the third-place game at last summer’s World Cup for men, are all similar examples of Canadians succeeding in soccer somewhat against the odds.

And being a rare Canadian official in a field dominated by the traditional nations of soccer isn’t lightly taken by Chenard.

“I absolutely feel pressure to represent Canada and Canadian referees. I always want to do well so that others will have the opportunity to experience what I have. People may not remember Carol Anne Chenard, but they will remember ‘the Canadian referee.’”

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