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"The piece that soccer needed": women referees arrive to Paraguay's first division

The inclusion of women in world soccer has been growing in recent years and both players and referees have more opportunities to develop

Referee Carmen Gomez in action during her Paraguay Cup match in San Estanislao, Paraguay July 19, 2019

Referee Carmen Gomez in action during her Copa Paraguay match in San Estanislao, Paraguay July 19, 2019. Picture taken July 18, 2019 REUTERS/Jorge Adorno

Reuters | Daniela Desantis

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Almost two decades after taking its first steps in the sporting arbitration, Carmen Gómez is about to see a dream come true: whistle a match in the first division of men's football in Paraguay.

Leer en español: "La parte que le hacía falta al fútbol": árbitras llegan a la primera división de Paraguay

Gómez and her partner Zulma Quiñónez are the first female referees in the country who, together with four assistants, train together with the judges of the so-called "division of honor", within the framework of a project that seeks to accelerate the participation of women in this activity. 

Both run since this year matches of the Paraguay Cup, which brings together clubs from Asunción and the interior of the country, as well as meetings of other categories, but the goal is to reach the highest division as soon as possible.

"We are the part that football needed," Gomez told Reuters shortly before scoring a match with two male assistants for the Paraguay Cup in San Estanislao, 150 kilometers northeast of Asunción.

"It seemed like a dream too distant, to be honest, but today we are faithful witnesses that it is a reality, a fact," he added referring to his work in men's football.

In addition to the physical and mental preparation, the referees are trained in video analysis and accompany their male colleagues in the training of the VAR video arbitration system, which will begin to be implemented in Paraguay on the first date of the Apertura 2020 Tournament.

The initiative is the continuation of a program that was implemented a few years ago in Argentina and promoted the career of referees such as Néstor Pitana and Patricio Loustau, told Reuters the international referee Horacio Elizondo, who has been leading since the end of 2018 the Department of Arbitrators of the Paraguayan Football Association (APF).

The inclusion of women in world soccer has been growing in recent years and both players and referees have more opportunities to develop. But in some countries, conquering those spaces can be a challenge.

"We had to fight against all odds because if we compare with other societies, this is much more closed in terms of machismo," said Elizondo, who led the 2016 World Cup final and expelled French star Zinedine Zidane in what was the last game Professional of the French star.

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"I've even seen grandmothers who insult them (the referees), but in general terms, they are well received, the players have a good deal with them," he added and highlighted his ability to overcome with less preparation time the demanding male physical tests.

Elizondo observes that the judges show another charisma in the field. "They are more strict about the rules of the game, they have a lower margin of tolerance and the margin of negotiation is more limited," he said.

In South America, Claudia Umpiérrez is the main referee in the first division of Uruguay and line judges participate in men's soccer in Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela.

"Now we are only two but we want to be more," said Gomez.

"We want to make more noise so that our compañeras also have their opportunity."

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