First Cambodian Female Referee Playing in a League of Her Own

Despite jeers from the crowd, Keo Monorom nervously stepped onto a football pitch in Kompong Chhnang province in January, becoming Cam­bodia’s first female referee for a men’s football match.

“In Kompong Chhnang, the audience shouted, ‘Oh a female referee, what did you become a referee for?” the 26-year-old assistant referee said in an interview Wednesday, referring to the Jan 7 qualifying rounds for the Prime Minister Hun Sen Cup. “They discouraged me, but I didn’t listen.”

Nearly a month later those sorts of comments continue.

With the 40-team tournament having moved to Phnom Penh’s Olym­pic Stadium, Keo Monorom said she is greeted at the sidelines every Sun­day by fans, and possibly even players, bellowing at her to “go get a haircut.”

“They shout ‘Why do you run a lot; how could you run after them, being a female?’” Keo Monorom said, adding that she was also called “auntie arbiter.”

But even faced with the constant taunts, Keo Monorom said that she will move ahead and that more wo­men should become referees. “It is important that I don’t care,” she said, adding, “I want to show that women are also capable.”

Keo Monorom returned to Cam­bodia in July after six years of studies in Cuba to receive a degree in physical education. She also played football and was a referee for her school in the Caribbean nation.

“In Cuba, it was fine,” she said of her experience as a referee, adding that her family was also supportive of her work.

The Football Federation of Cam­bodia has also hired her to be a translator for a Cuban coach who trains the national volleyball team.

Chhun Try, a member of the FFC’s three-person referee committee, interpreted the reactions of fans and players as the beginnings of acceptance.

“Our tradition has never seen a wo­man as the referee,” he said. “They didn’t understand that even women also play football in the world, so they were actually shock­ed. That is our pride.”

Keo Monorom began her referee training in May of last year with Jap­an Football Association referee in­structor Tetsu Karakida as part of a class including four other women and 40 men. In an interview Wed­nesday, Karakida said it was unlikely that the other four women would appear on the field as officials.

“Keo Monorom already knows the laws of the games,” Karakida said.

He added that Keo Monorom has the conviction to stand by the calls she makes on the field.

“She has strong point and mind—she has confidence…. That’s very important,” he said.

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