In a profession that has been historically dominated by men, one woman is now looking to challenge the norm and become the first female professional referee to officiate in a top flight league game. 25 year old Italian Elena Tambini has been refereeing in Italy’s minor leagues for several seasons but is now targeting a dream move to Serie A and hopefully one day international fixtures. Currently Tambini works as a press officer and communications manager for Italian singer songwriter David Van de Sfroos, but if her dreams come true, she would have no qualms about quitting her job to become a full time referee. Her obsession with the game isn’t limited to the pitch as she spends most of her free time coaching and training other referees in Como the rules of the game. She has as much passion for the game as the next person, but because she is a different from the conventional male referee, she is being treated with a different focus.
Tambini has been hitting the headlines in various newspapers but most often with a focus on her stunning features rather than her capabilities. It’s not the first time this has happened. When former Croatian female internationalist Tihana Nemcic took over as manager of 5th division side, NK Viktorija Vojakovach in Croatia, the media frenzy that followed focused on her previous stint as a model rather than whether she was up to the job. With a wealth of experience in the game, Nemcic would have been forgiven for feeling wronged by those who judged her on her appearance before she took the job but some 24 months later, she remains in charge and is pushing her team towards the promotion places.
In the UK, assistant referee Sian Massey is currently the only active female official in the Premier League, although she hasn’t yet taken full charge of a game yet. She too has been caught up in sexist controversy that famously ended the Sky Sports careers of Andy Gray and Richard Keys. During a match between Liverpool and Wolves in January 2011, where Massey was officiating as an assistant, Gray and Keys were caught making snide comments about Massey after accidentally leaving their microphones on. Grey questioned if Massey, being a woman, knew what the offside rule was to which Keys replied “of course not”. The pair were heavily criticized and sacked by Sky weeks later. Massey has continued to act as an assistant and regularly officiates in Premiership games.
If Tambini is to become the first female referee in Serie A, she will need to do so with a thick skin as the game has unfortunately not progressed to the desired level that should be acceptable. Riddled with problems surrounding racism and homophobia, football has failed to evolve. Whilst the presence of Massey on the sidelines of games now only troubles a select few idiots, having a female referee at the centre of the action may attract much more of them. But for football to move forward, it needs people like Tambini to push the boundaries to realize their dreams even if others strongly disagree. The game needs Tambini as much as she needs it.