It has been a forgettable week for women in Indian sport with revelations of sexual harassment in hockey and in weightlifting. But football referee Maria Rebello's feat will give women a reason to be happy.
The 38-year-old from Goa became the first woman in the country to officiate in a men's match when she blew the whistle to kick-off the Santosh Trophy tie between Delhi and Madhya Pradesh at the Howrah stadium.
Bentla D'Coth, another woman referee from Kerala, was assigned a Santosh Trophy match in Kerala five years ago but she was the fourth official there. “This is the first time that a woman has conducted a men's match in India. There has been instances of women officiating in age-group matches but never at the senior level,” Milan Dutta, a former member of the AFC referees' committee, told HT.
The Delhi-Madhya Pradesh match was a practical test for Maria, who is known by her first name, for a berth in the AFC & FIFA Elite panel of referees and so she was instructed not to interact with the media. AFC referees assessor Maniam Murugiah had come down from Singapore for the test. “This is her second and final test,” Dutta confirmed. “Her first test was during the U-19 nationals six weeks ago when she officiated in the match between Uttarakhand and Mizoram at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan watched by assessor Pirom Ansapret of Thailand.” If Maria qualifies, she will be only the second Indian on the Elite panel of referees along with Pratap Singh of the Services.