A woman with whistle in hand

Hà Thị Phượng is one of only two female Vietnamese referees to have passed the rigorous physical and rules tests to officiate games in V.League 2 2021, which kicked off last month. It was a history-making achievement, and the first time professional Vietnamese football featured female assistant referees. She spoke with Thanh Nga.

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RUNNING THE LINE: Referee Hà Thị Phượng. Photo

Inner Sanctum: You made history by being one of the first two women to be assistant referees in professional football in Việt Nam. How does it feel?

I’m happy to be one of the first two female assistant referees in the men’s league. All referees need to stay updated with the rules and be ready when the time comes. I’d like to thank the referees board at the Việt Nam Football Federation (VFF) and the Việt Nam Professional Football Joint Stock Company (VPF) for placing their trust in female referees and creating the conditions for us to officiate in the men’s league.

As one of the pioneers, I want to say to all aspiring female referees — we can do more than we think if we have discipline, effort, and passion. I believe you can do it.

Inner Sanctum: Can you tell us about yourself?

I was born in 1986, and graduated from the football department at the Bắc Ninh University of Physical Education and Sports.

I currently work at the Hải Phòng Football Club and referee for the VFF. I became a FIFA referee in 2015 and a FIFA elite referee in 2017.

Inner Sanctum: Obviously you love football. Why did you choose to pursue a career in the game?

You might say that becoming a referee was preordained. While I was still at the Bắc Ninh University, in 2006, the VFF organised an elementary class for aspiring referees. At first, it felt like a fun thing to do, but then I fell in love with it. I’ve now been a referee for more than 10 years.

Inner Sanctum: You almost became the first female referee to officiate a men’s game in Việt Nam last year. Do you regret it didn’t happen?

A little. I was prepared physically but not mentally. It was the first time I had participated in a major refereeing test, and I was the only woman. My nerves got the better of me in the final part of the test.

football, tournament, match, cup, sport
IN SHAPE: Phượng (left) taking part in a physical strength test. Photo

Inner Sanctum: Which women’s football tournaments have you refereed at?

I have refereed at national women’s football tournaments such as the U16, U19, National Cup, and National Championship.

Regionally, I’ve officiated at the AFF U15 Women’s Championships, the AFF U16 Women’s Championships, the AFF U19 Women’s Championships, and AFF Cup. I also took part in the AFC U16 Championships, the AFC U19 Championships, Asian Cup qualifiers, Olympic qualifiers, and Asian Games 18.

Inner Sanctum: What is the difference between refereeing a women’s match and a men’s match?

Men’s matches are more difficult. I have to be in good physical shape and be assertive for the whole 90 minutes.

football, tournament, match, cup, sport
OUT & ABOUT: Phượng away from the football pitch. Photo courtesy of Hà Thị Phượng

Inner Sanctum: The men were apparently excited to have a female referee. How did you feel?

Everything feels new the first time. But I actually felt quite comfortable and didn’t feel much pressure. Now it seems normal.

Inner Sanctum: What do you think about female referees in particular and women’s sports in general?

Women referees and women’s sports are both at a disadvantage compared to their male counterparts. In addition to maintaining fitness and performance, it is also about life. Married men still play professionally, but it can be a problem for women. But if we are really passionate, it can be done.

Inner Sanctum: Women generally want to be beautiful. Are you afraid that being a referee will affect your beauty?

No. Whatever field you work in, you need to take care of yourself. Many women in the sports industry are modern and stylish. VNS

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