A Seasoned Sports Referee 

Her Story

Lidya Tafesse

I was born and raised in Jimma. After completing high school, I moved to Addis Ababa. Back then, I used to play basketball for “Kiraybetoch” and I was also a referee for soccer. While still in Addis Ababa, I got a scholarship from Central University College and I started studying for a diploma in Pharmacy. After the diploma, I further continued my studies and earned my degree. In my school years, I was active and used to participate in gymnastics, mini media, engage with Red Cross and provide family planning counselling, while still playing basketball.

When I first set out in my sports career, I started as a soccer and basketball player, so the first refereeing I did was in 1992 E.C. in Mekele city. I refereed a men’s project game and it was at that time where I found my true self and I realized I could be good at refereeing. When all the senior instructors said that I was good and brave, I thought to myself I could be a good Ethiopian referee who could work with integrity. That was the moment I realized refereeing was my passion. For that reason, I did not pursue a career in Pharmacy.

In my years of refereeing I had many career goals – I used to want to be a referee at the premier league level, and I did it. It did not take me much time to do that. Then I wanted to further continue and referee at the African Cup which is held every two years, and I was the referee four years in a row, the most recent which was in Cameroon. And I was the referee on the biggest semi-final game between South Africa and Nigeria. I was also successful in the Ethiopian Premier League and was voted star referee for 3 years in a row for the men’s Premier League as well as for the women’s league. And so my next goal was to go to the world cup, and I could have gone but I got pregnant at that time as I always wanted a child. But my pregnancy was difficult and I suffered many health problems and complications, but still managed to get back on track and continue refereeing.

Throughout my years in this field, which is perceived solely a man’s world, I faced so many challenges and struggled through them. At the same time in which I started, there were no women in the field of refereeing. I was the first female referee to go abroad and referee at an international arena. I was the first female Ethiopian to be a referee at the World Cup as well. But now there are more than 50 female referees following in my footsteps and we are not at the time where people say female referees are are better than male referees. And I believe I have brought this attitude changes towards female referees and now women are more accepted and wanted in all positions within the Sports Federation. Although now is a better time than when I first started, the new upcoming female referees still have to learn and there needs to be a seminar or a symposium of some sort to train them and to give them better support. From what I have seen, both the female and male referees have a long way to go and they need guidance.

“What I want female referees to know is, we women can do anything; there is no such things as a man’s profession”

In my position as a referee the best I can do for them is request FIFA or CAF to provide these trainings because I am not an instructor myself. And after refereeing in the 2019 World Cup, I am also planning to be an instructor to help these young referees. And when I instruct I want to instruct the women alone first so that they get to the position where they can challenge the men, because we women are really overshadowed in this field. I also try to help the senior retired referees. When I get jerseys from abroad I let the current male referees bid for the jersey and give the money for those senior referees who only live off their retirement money. But for the female referees I give it for free. And whenever I go abroad I also bring books about the laws of the game and give it to these young referees because I want them to practice English. I feel like I have to be a role model for them to look up to me and I always try to lead by example.

When I first started working it was known as a man’s job, and there are many people who don’t know that female referees exist. Now there are more female referees who have followed my footsteps. And women in any field of career can be successful but face many challenges as the one I faced during my pregnancy and throughout my career, but that never stopped me. There are many ups and downs in life so every bump in the road should make us even stronger and never accept defeat. It’s true that for women to get to where they want to get they need support. But we women shouldn’t always wait for support; we also need to try to strive and shine out by ourselves.

What do they think/say about Lidya?

Lidya’s colleagues describe her as a very committed for what she does. They further explained how she started from the very bottom and passed through all the necessary steps to reach the international level. “She is very open and committed. Having passed through many challenging experiences, she is a woman who has proved she can do things.”

They also mentioned that she has done what the current male referees who are believed to be fit for the job could not do. So, where ever she goes she creates a good image of her country. They also explained that Lidya’s biggest quality is that she shares her knowledge with others. She is a woman of integrity, which is very important in her line of work. Thus, they see her as a big role model. Her colleagues believe her to be a pioneer in female refereeing not only in Ethiopia but also in Africa as female African referees are currently not more than 5.

Her colleagues admire her for what she does recalling the time she recently hosted a bid on some expensive sports equipment she got for free from FIFA and gave the profit of almost 35,000 birr to senior retired referees who are currently underprivileged. On top of that she gives this equipment for those young girls who want to join the refereeing career for free.