What to expect from the 12 refereeing teams at Rio 2016 Olympic Games women’s football

Having established the FIFA Women’s World Cup for 1991, five years later Women’s Football became an event at the Olympic Games.

Ever since USA 1999, all FIFA competition women matches have to be led by women’s referees, a decision that personally I think really improved the morale and helped to create a future generation of women’s referees.

Here at Rio 2016, women’s football is as strong as ever and the same could be said of the referees, I’ll try to give some sort of preview as what to expect from the 12 refereeing teams:


Referee: Rita Gani (MAS, 1977)

The police officer from Sabuh became an international referee in 2006 and went into AFC Asian Cup 2014 as a relative unknown on the big stage. However, after surely some performances well reputed so was appointed to lead the semi-final between South Korea – Australia. She awarded a very brave penalty to SKR, which to me looked like an incorrect decision. Anyhow she must have done quite a good job because she was selected for Canada 2015, where she led Switzerland – Ecuador.

To me she seems a determined, confident referee not afraid to take unpopular decisions. One thing certainly in her favour is her experienced ARs (especially Flynn), but I would be surprised if she went past the group stage.

Assistant Referee 1: Allyson Flynn (AUS, 1982)
Assistant Referee 2: Naomi Teshirogi (JPN, 1980)

Referee: Hyang Ok Ri (PRK, 1977)

Ri Hyang Ok even played in two FIFA Women’s World Cups for North Korea as an attacking midfielder but retired having not qualified for Athens 2004. Having only attended Asian Cup 2014 as a fourth official, she must have made an impression at the Algarve Cup 2015 as she was selected for Canada 2015. I must say having not heard of her previously, she did stand out in Sweden – Nigeria as one the best referees at the whole championship despite it only being an easy match. FIFA were obviously impressed also and she was appointed for the crucial final group match between Canada – Netherlands, with again a very satisfying performance. Having after giving an incorrect penalty in Germany – Sweden she was no longer a contender for the crucial final matches of the championship, however was fully deserving of her designation to lead the Third Place Match.

She is generally a referee that applies a lenient approach, and likes to use her personality quite a lot. Having shown she is a very strong referee under pressure I would say she is favourite to lead Brazil – Sweden in this summer. Anything less than the knockout stages would be a big disappointment for a very talented referee.

Assistant Referee 1: Kum Nyo Hong (PRK, 1973)
Assistant Referee 2: Yongmei Cui (CHN, 1979)


Referee: Gladys Lengwe (ZAM, 1978)

Voted Zambia’s best referee, Gladys Lengwe has certainly achieved something remarkable before even considering her international palmarès. She is the first women to lead matches in the Zambian Super League, and was voted the best referee in Zambia in 2012. Lengwe then travelled to Zambia for the 2014 African Women’s Championship and having led one group match was appointed for the final between Nigeria – Cameroon. Having been a fourth official in the Under-20 World Cup a year previous, 2015 saw Lengwe referee a World Cup match, Germany – Thailand, and left a generally good impression.

To my mind she seems the best women’s referee perhaps even in the history of CAF, no pressure then! I think she has outside chances for a knockout game but generally one would expect her to probably officiate just one group match.

Assistant Referee 1: Bernadettar Kwimbira (MWI, 1981)
Assistant Referee 2: Souad Oulhaj (MAR, 1974)


Referee: Carol Anne Chenard (CAN, 1977)

A former world record holder in short-track speed skating and owner of a PhD, for sure Chenard is a busy woman! Certainly it is clear that FIFA rely on her, U20 WC 2008 Semifinal, U20 WC 2010 Final, FIFA Women’s World Cup Semifinal in 2011 contested by Sweden – Japan, and U20 World Cup Final 2014. Also domestically she has reached a very high level in the North American Soccer League (Second Tier). And also she was appointed to lead probably the most important match of the knockout round of 2014’s CONCACAF Women’s Championship, Third Place Playoff (World Cup Playoff). So hence it was very natural that she was among the referees at Canada 2015. She was generally okay in Germany – Ivory Coast, with a doubtful but probably acceptable penalty award in England – Colombia. To me she wasn’t at her best in the group stages but her palmarès fully deserved her appointment for Germany – France. I have to confess I was on holiday for this match, so I couldn’t watch it, so judge for yourself I suppose.

First of all before you criticise her fitness, do remember she set short-track speed skating world record. Despite probably not being on top form at home really last year, she remains one of FIFA’s best referees and she be no surprise at all to see in the latter stages.

Assistant Referee 1: Marie-Josee Charbonneau (CAN, 1982)
Assistant Referee 2: Suzanne Morisset (CAN, 1984)

Referee: Lucila Venegas (MEX, 1981)

Lucila Venegas is certainly the next of the Mexican referees who really have been a feature of the last Women’s World Cups. She led the final of the 2014 CONCACAF Women’s Championship between United States – Costa Rica, ahead of her more experienced colleague Quetzali Alvarado (FIFA World Cup 2011 Quarterfinal, Germany – Japan). Honestly it wasn’t a hard match at all, the US won 6-0, but it was a fantastic tournament from Venegas who was no favourite to lead the final. When it came to World Cup 2015, I must say I was expecting Alvarado to be selected, but instead FIFA chose both. And it was the younger Mexican who impressed more, with a very brave and correct penalty in Japan – Switzerland, and a solid performance in Australia – Sweden saw her deservedly lead the Round of 16 match, Japan – Netherlands, again without any trouble at all.

A very solid referee who FIFA can generally rely on, she has a good chance of reaching the knockout round, but if we are to see one CONCACAF referee, it will likely be a Canadian.

Assistant Referee 1: Enedina Caudillo (MEX, 1984)
Assistant Referee 2: Mayte Chavez (MEX, 1979)


Referee: Olga Miranda (PAR, 1982)

The bachelor in liberal arts from Paraguay was something of a surprise choice for Canada 2015. Paraguay’s referee at the 2014 Copa America Feminina was Zulma Quiñónez, and she was generally entrusted with leading the bigger matches in Ecuador. But it seems that FIFA have a very different view than CONMEBOL (none of the referees at Copa America Feminina were chosen for the World Cup) as they chose Miranda as one of four referees from South America. Her selection was especially surprising as one of the best referees of FIFA Women’s World Cup, Silvia Reyes, was not chosen. Anyhow she only performed as a fourth official in Canada, so I am yet to see her referee!

Assistant Referee 1: Mariana De Almeida (ARG, 1982)
Assistant Referee 2: Yoleida Lara (VEN, 1985)

Referee: Claudia Umpierrez (URU, 1983)

The first women to lead a professional men’s football match in Uruguay, Claudia Umpierrez has come a long way since refereeing to get money as a student. Her big international breakthrough was the 2012 Under-17 World Cup in Azerbaijan, where her trio was appointed to lead a semifinal, North Korea – Germany. Having failed the fitness test for Under-20 World Cup 2014, after her pregnancy, she got her fitness up to be chosen for the 2015 Algarve Cup, and then FIFA chose her for Canada 2015. Clearly they have trust in the Uruguayan as they appointed her for one of the biggest first round matches, Australia – United States. She showed a very accomplished performance with a strict style, keeping her distance from the players and also remaining a strong authority. Furthermore she clearly performed well in a decisive Cameroon – Switzerland match as FIFA selected her for England – Canada in Vancouver in front of over 50,000 fans. Technically it maybe wasn’t the best performance but considering the atmosphere she did a generally very good job, and she was selected as the fourth official for the final.

She was one of the big surprises of the World Cup, and she thoroughly deserved being involved right until the last match. To me she has a great chance to go even further in Brazil, her strict style would be perfect for some matches you feel.

Assistant Referee 1: Loreto Toloza (CHI, 1984)
Assistant Referee 2: Neuza Back (BRA, 1984)


Referee: Anna Marie Keighley (NZL, 1982)

Having not at all been a big name on the international stage, Anna Marie Keighley clearly showed some great refereeing to overtake Finau Vulivuli from Fiji who had been OFC’s regular name on the international stage. The Fijian PE teacher was appointed to Under-20 World Cup in 2014, whereas Keighley to Under-17 World Cup. However I must say when Keighley was chosen for the World Cup ahead of Vulivuli I was very surprised. She was appointed on the second day of competition for Thailand – Norway, and she really did show an impressive performance so she was appointed to lead England – Mexico, again a very good job. So she was appointed for the crucial final matchday game between South Korea – Spain, where through my memory of being very tired watching it she again had a great performance. FIFA obviously thought so also, so she was appointed to lead the Canada – Switzerland knockout match in Vancouver to again a crowd over 50 000, and she showed a very convincing and calm performance. She was then appointed for a remarkable fifth (!) match, the semifinal between Japan – England. Unfortunately that match was probably her least impressive performance, with two doubtful penalties, one though was reall the mistake of AR1 Walker. However that should not take away the achievement of an amazing month.

If you don’t follow international refereeing, you cannot understand our frustrations at always seeing OFC trios below an acceptable level match after match. Keighley is a brilliant exception to this, you could even argue that she was the best of them all in Canada, well no other referee got to lead five matches. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see her even lead the final in Rio.

Assistant Referee 1: Sarah Jones (NZL, 1990)
Assistant Referee 2: Lata Kaumatule (TGA, 1985)


Referee: Teodora Albon (ROU, 1977)

The Romanian Liga 2 referee is certainly one of the most talented referees of her current generation, having gone through the usual UEFA Youth Championships her big breakthrough was refereeing the famous UEFA Women’s Champions League Semifinal between Lyon – Turbine Potsdam (5-1). Since then she has really been on the rise, refereeing the final of 2013’s Champions League, before travelling to Women’s Euro 2013, and seeing the other Romanian, Cristina Dorcioman lead the final quite polemically. However one only has to look at her World Cup Qualifying designations to see how much trust FIFA have in her: Israel – Switzerland, Russia – Ireland, before the winner takes all match Iceland – Denmark, and another winner takes all match Sweden – Scotland, and the the first leg of the final playoff Netherlands – Italy. No surprise she was chosen for the World Cup. She led Germany – Norway in the group stages, and Brazil – Australia in the Round of sixteen both with very good performances. Then she was appointed to what was probably the biggest match in her career, Germany – United States in front of 50 000+ spectators in Montreal. Generally she showed why she appointed to the gig, very good control, foul detection fine. But she cautioned USA#17 for a clear DOGSO (denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity: Red Card), and then awarded a penalty for USA where the foul occurred outside the penalty area. Yet, she regrouped and led the Women’s Champions League Semifinal between Wolfsburg – Frankfurt, and is fully deserving of a place in Brazil.

Basically apart from bad performances, only FIFA politics would stop her getting a knockout match. One thing that probably won’t work for her is that FIFA will try to keep her off Germany and United States matches, but seriously she is one the very best at the moment, certainly capable of refereeing the most high pressure matches.

Assistant Referee 1: Petruta Iugulescu (ROU, 1979)
Assistant Referee 2: Mária Súkeníková (SVK, 1975)

Referee: Stéphanie Frappart (FRA, 1983)

A meteoric rise for Ms Frappart in the last years. In 2011 she became an international referee, but 2013/14 was her breakthrough season as she was appointed to high profile Women’s World Cup qualifiers, including England – Wales and at the end of the season it was announced she was the first women to lead matches in Ligue 2. In 2014/15 she was appointed to two very important World Cup Qualifiers, Poland – Sweden and Czech Republic – Spain, and two Women’s Champions League fixtures. For 2015 she was promoted into the UEFA Elite Category and was appointed for the most sonorous of the UEFA Women’s Champions League Quarterfinals, Wolfsburg – Rosengard, and if this was a final test if she was ready for a FIFA World Cup, then she passed and remarkably she was on the list of selected referees in Canada having not even been in the Elite Category before the start of 2015. When she got to Canada 2015, she led the group match Australia – Nigeria, where her team can be excused for missing a Violent Conduct, and FIFA appointed her to lead the potentially tense Round of Sixteen match, Colombia – United States. She showed a very good performance, and despite some completely stupid and plainly incorrect comments about cautions (they were both clear!), and a correct RC to the COL#GK and penalty, and showed she stays calm on the biggest stage. This season she was appointed to lead the Wolfsburg – Brescia Champions League Quarterfinal.

Frappart has been promoted very quickly but unlike others has shown she fully deserves her promotion. She is the least experienced of all the UEFA referees in Brazil so I would be surprised to see her in the knockout rounds but still a very talented with far to go in the future.

Assistant Referee 1: Manuela Nicolosi (FRA, 1980)
Assistant Referee 2: Yolanda Parga Rodríguez (ESP, 1978)

Referee: Kateryna Monzul (UKR, 1981)

Kateryna Monzul became the first women to lead a match in the Ukraine’s Premier League and in 2011 and it is no surprise why. She was one of more inexperienced referees at Women’s Euro 2009, but nonetheless led two matches including Germany – France. She was also a fourth official at FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011. 2013 was her real breakthrough year, as she lead the UEFA Champions League Semifinal between Arsenal – Wolfsburg, and then the Euro Semifinal, Norway – Denmark, both with a positive resonance. Then in 2014, she was appointed to lead the Champions League Final, Wolfsbrug – Tyreso, and in a challenging match performed very well. Meanwhile all seven (!) of her World Cup Qualifiers were really important to name but a few: Spain – Italy, Netherlands – Belgium, Switzerland – Iceland, Austria – Finland, and then finally the playoff between Scotland – Netherlands. No surprise then she is appointed to the World Cup and still little surprise she would blow the first whistle of the championship in Canada – China. Overall she showed a very good, calm performance, and the last minute penalty to Canada was an extremely brave and correct call. If she’d have got it wrong, I suspect we wouldn’t have seen her again (just ask Nishimura about Fred’s ‘Penalty…). Then a correct red card in Nigeria – United States in a good performance meant FIFA tasked her with leading Japan – Australia in searing heat in Edmonton, and again a good performance. Her style, which was clear throughout her previous three matches, is to keep some distance from the players and only converse when necessary to leave an impression, and generally all her three matches left without controversy (apart from Canada – China when surely media were watching the match with their eyes closed). FIFA appointed her for her fourth match, and that match was the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final! Absolutely no discussion about the referee, perfect performance from Monzul and team. Her first international match after that was surely one of her hardest, a UEFA Champions League Round of Thirty-Two match between Bayern Munchen – Twente saw the Dutch visitors qualify on away goals after two controversial penalties, one for each side. Anyhow she refereed the Semifinal of Paris SG – Lyon in the same competition.

I can’t see Monzul repeating the feat of Bibiana Steinhaus (why isn’t she here by the way?!), and refereeing the World Cup Final, and then the Olympic Final within a year of each other, although I think she has a very good chance, and maybe favourite, of leading Brazil’s Quarter/Semi-Final should they reach that far. But the final is certainly still a big possibility for the Ukrainian.

Assistant Referee 1: Natalia Rachynska (UKR, 1970)
Assistant Referee 2: Sanja Rodjak Karšić (CRO, 1983)

Referee: Esther Staubli (SUI, 1979)

Esther Staubli is only the second women after Nicole Petignat to referee in a match in Switzerland’s Challenge League (Second Tier), and certainly her palmarès on the international stage would bear that out. 2011 was her first really big year, as she was a fourth official at FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011, and then a few months later refereeing in the Quarterfinal of the UEFA Women’s Champions League, Frankfurt – Malmo. She refereed another Quarterfinal in that competition before travelling to Sweden for Women’s Euro 2013. She led two group matches, Italy – Denmark, Germany – Norway but then came her biggest match ever surely, as she was designated for the big Sweden – Germany Semifinal in Gothenburg, in front of a full, partisan stadium. She showed a very strong performance but will be always remembered for whistling a foul to deny Sweden an equaliser, which was a correct decision it was a clear push and a very brave call in front of a noisy home crowd. In 2014 she had the honour of leading two derbies in the latter stages of the Champions League, Birmingham – Arsenal in Quarterfinal and the famous Wolfsburg – Turbine Potsdam Semifinal, both again with a very positive resonance. In 2015 she was a clear favourite to lead the Champions League Final, and again having done very well in the classic Quarterfinal, Rosengard – Wolfsburg, she got the call to go to Berlin for 2015’s Final. Actually if you want to read my official observer report on that you can here, thanks to The Third Team. I was a bit harsh really then, she did well in a challenging atmosphere. Anyhow no surprise she was on the plane to Canada and she started with Brazil – South Korea, which was just an average performance, and then she was appointed for England – Norway where she showed a good performance. She was unlucky for me not to get any further matches in Canada.

If I had to make a prediction now, which is very hard, I think Staubli is the favourite for the final, especially considering she probably wasn’t at her best in Canada and will be determined to make more of an impression on the latter stages here. I think FIFA politics could work against her as the last three major women’s finals have been led by a UEFA referee (Steinhaus, Steinhaus, Monzul), but again I think she is a very big candidate for the Brazil Quarter/Semi-Finals should they get there. Considering FIFA’s appointment process (politics!), I would most likely see her in the non-Brazil Semifinal.

Assistant Referee 1: Lucie Ratajova (CZE, 1979)
Assistant Referee 2: Chrysoula Kourompylia (GRE, 1977)

Support Officials:

Maria Belen Carvajal (CHI)
Melissa Borjas (HON)

  1. Gina West 7 years ago

    A brilliant read and a very interesting insight. I am intrigued to see how they perform and who progresses to the latter stages.

  2. Asa 7 years ago

    Thank you Harry, good read

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