Uvena Fernandes’ career triumph as the first Indian to referee at a FIFA World Cup final will be on spectators’ minds when they gather for the first Women’s U-17 World Cup match at the Nehru stadium in Fatorda on October 11.
Uvena, a daughter of Canacona, was 35 when she was appointed referee for the FIFA U-17 World Cup final in Jordan in 2016 between Japan and North Korea. “It was a proud moment. I was excited as I entered the field, but it was work as usual as I blew the whistle,” recollects Uvena.
“Being part of the World Cup made me proud and also made me understand that every match is important. I felt special, and it felt like a dream was coming true and yet, the underlining principle of performing on the field triumphed,” says Uvena who has represented India as a player.
Uvena, a frequent visitor to Goa, smilingly says, “I cannot hide my origin wherever I go. Goa is the best place to be in the world because we are a mix of everything. The identity of Goa travels with me wherever I go because it flows naturally with me.”
After refereeing the FIFA U-17 World Cup, Uvena was part of the final referees selected for the FIFA U-20 World Cup final in 2018 in France. “I had a slight injury after my semi-final match and did recover but was not given the final assignment,” remarks Uvena as she recounts her refereeing highs.
“Except for the speed in play, there is not much difference in refereeing U-17 or U-20. Mentally, the players from both age groups are on similar wavelengths, though the U-20 show a bit more maturity. The intensity is the same,” believes Uvena.
Uvena has been part of the FIFA elite referees panel for the last nine years and despite her refereeing schedule gives priority to her profession of being a wing commander, air traffic controller and administrative officer with the Indian Air Force.
“I organise my time in such a manner that I first prioritise time for my work; I then make time for my family and fit in time for my passion. First comes duty, and after that, I make time for myself where I adjust my role as a mother. Refereeing is my passion. I have to be truthful, and I am doing very well,” she admits.
Having reached the heights of refereeing, Uvena intends to pursue the role of Video Assistant Referee (VAR). At 41, she still has time, as referees retire at 45.
“Girls should realise that refereeing is a great profession. It is easy to be a referee and easier to be a good referee if one knows the laws and keeps good fitness. Passion, fitness level and knowledge of the laws of the game are three things required to make anyone reach the top platform, and I don’t think it is difficult,” says Uvena. She believes girls in Goa should look at refereeing as a career option.
When not on call to referee, Uvena juggles her time between work, her son and her exercise regime to maintain her fitness. “Fitness is an essential aspect of refereeing, and I make time to maintain my level of fitness,” says Uvena.
“I am where I am because of the support I received from my parents and especially my brother. My teenage son is my strength, my rock. I do meet people and learn and share with them. To be a good referee, one needs to be a good human being. The discipline within oneself needs to be reflected on the field,” reasons Uvena.
As the referee blows the final match of the last FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Goa, football fans in Goa will have appreciated what it is to have one of their own refereeing on this exceedingly significant sports stage.