Australia's Casey Reibelt keen for "surreal" moment officiating at a home World Cup
After much anticipation in Australia, the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 is finally around the corner, with the Matildas undoubtedly the talk of the town down under. While the players garner significant attention, it's also an important tournament for Australia's referees. Front Page Football spoke to A-Leagues and Women's World Cup referee Casey Reibelt about the tournament's impact on refereeing in Australia, officiating at a home World Cup, and the challenges she and the rest of FIFA's team will face over the next month.
Casey Reibelt was one of four Australian match officials selected for the FIFA Women's World Cup. (Twitter: @aleaguemen)
As the 2023 Matildas will be considered trailblazers for the next crop of female footballers produced in Australia, Casey Reibelt, in many ways, is a pioneer for the growth and development of female referees in the Australian game. Over the next month, she will play her role as part of FIFA's refereeing team, experiencing undoubtedly the highlight of her career.
"I can't explain. It's surreal; it's not something I ever imagined doing. I was in France for the last World Cup, and this doesn't compare; it's totally different," Reibelt told FPF.
"The build-up in the months leading up, I think the Australian public's really gotten behind it, you see that with the ticket sales. So I'm just so excited for the competition to start.
"It's been a lot of hard work over the last three or four years, challenging as well. I'm just so excited that we've got this opportunity to share Australia, New Zealand with the rest of the world.
"I don't think we're going to see the impact of this World Cup until the future, but I know it's coming, and I'm so excited that I get to be a part of it."
It's an opportunity more than merited for Reibelt, who has built up a substantial body of work in Australia throughout her refereeing career.
She became only the second female to referee an A-League Men fixture towards the backend of the 2021/22 season, overseeing a meeting between Perth Glory and the Western Sydney Wanderers. The first was Kate Jacewicz, and now both will represent Australia at the Women's World Cup. This event represents the second time the duo will represent Australia as two central referees.
Such a statistic undoubtedly shows growth in female refereeing in football. But issues plaguing the game in this area mainly centred around abuse, raise questions about whether this growth will continue.
State federations, particularly at a grassroots level, are finding it increasingly difficult to retain and entice people to become referees. In May, Football South Australia released a statement regarding the number of referees in South Australia, stating how it is not in line with the growth of competitions, resulting in more matches at a junior level not being adjudicated by official referees. The body also stated this trend is consistent nationwide.
Referee abuse is undoubtedly the principal factor contributing to why so many either leave or decide not to take up such roles, as witnessed through the attack on referee Khodr Yaghi in a match in New South Wales between the Greenacre Eagles and Padstow Hornets, which went viral in May. With abuse still a pertinent and troubling issue in the women's game generally, there is a concern the culture created towards referees in Australia will prevent other females from replicating Reibelt's journey.
But she is hopeful her involvement in the upcoming tournament, on home soil, will inspire young girls to follow the referee path or at least decide to contribute to football.
"I think that as soon as we step on that field on our first match, there's going to be young girls, and girls and boys around Australia and New Zealand who are looking to us and going, 'Oh wow, I'd really love to do that one day.' So definitely, I think it's going to inspire some of our younger generation, maybe some of our players, to become referees, take up refereeing," Reibelt said.
"I know that watching the previous World Cups, that was something that I was inspired by. So I think definitely, it's going to help with improving retention and people just wanting to be involved in football in general."
Reibelt, who has refereed in Australia's premier women's football competition since 2008, has previously gone on record desiring more females to officiate, hoping to see them regularly feature in the A-League Men.
Her counterpart from co-hosts New Zealand, referee Anna-Marie Keighley, also briefly spoke to Front Page Football, echoing similar sentiments regarding the impact the tournament could have on refereeing in the country.
"I think it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a World Cup in your own country and for people to get involved in the competition. They'll see football; football will be around more, and then to, as a referee, be part of it, hopefully [I] can be a role model and inspire others that this is a potential pathway to be involved in football at the highest level," Keighley said.
Factors off the pitch are crucial, but Keighley and Reibelt will undoubtedly face judgement by the decisions they make on it. One new aspect they must contend with at this World Cup is the introduction of stadium announcements for Video Assistant Referee (VAR) decisions.
As explained at the FIFA Refereeing & Football Technology & Innovation Press Conference today, PA announcements will communicate VAR decisions to fans inside the stadium and on TV. The announcement will be the final decision and a reason, including the offence, the player who committed it, and a brief description.
Chairman of the Referees Committee Pierluigi Collina and FIFA Head of Refereeing for Women Kari Seitz are confident their refereeing team will use stadium announcements effectively throughout the tournament. However, they did reiterate many of the referees will be using such a mechanism for the first time.
READ MORE ON FPF
WOMEN'S WORLD CUP: The Australian connections from Group A to D
FOOTBALL WRITERS FESTIVAL: The festival providing a platform for emerging female football writers
Reibelt endorsed the introduction of stadium announcements, citing the education aspect of the feature as important.
"I think that it's just going to help to educate people around, first of all, knowing what decision we've made, also to why we've made it, and I think the more understanding that there is around a referee's decision, the more acceptance there is, and a little less controversy. I think it's a positive," she said.
Reibelt also spoke in favour of the increased technology being used at this tournament, despite fans' and players' animosity and general discontent towards features such as VAR.
When asked about the challenges she and the refereeing team will face at the tournament, Reibelt cited the technology as crucial to help overcome any obstacles.
"I think technology is just going to be an asset for us in this tournament. As I'm sure you've heard, we're doing the stadium announcements after a VAR review, so that's going to help inform the public and the spectators about our decisions," she said.
"Also, we'll have the same technologies they had in Qatar around the offside, automatic offside. So all that's going to help us to make sure that we get decisions right on the field, and also it's going to help to educate the public. The technology is good for me; it's positive."
From an Australian perspective, many will hope Reibelt's tournament goes smoothly with few hiccups along the way. But beyond the World Cup, the hope is for an uptick, not only for the women's game generally but for the participation and treatment of both female and male referees in the Australian game.
Click here to read more FIFA Women's World Cup content, where FPF looked at the Australian connections from Group A to D!