A dream come true

A football referee for over two decades, Nicole Petignat has been overseeing matches in Switzerland’s top division for four years.

This content was published on July 29, 2003 - 16:51

Her skills have helped her make a name for herself in Europe, as she told swissinfo’s Mathias Froidevaux.

Petignat is something of a footballing pioneer, having proven herself good enough to referee the final of the women’s World Cup and to oversee the best games in Swiss football.

But now, she is facing an even bigger challenge. She will be the first woman to referee an international men’s match, under the guidance of Uefa.

swissinfo: How did you find out you were selected by Uefa?

Nicole Petignat: “I just got a telephone call from a Uefa official who asked me if I was free on August 14. As I said yes, he then told I had been chosen to referee the Uefa Cup match between Sweden’s AIK Solna and Iceland’s Fylkir.

I was very emotional because it’s a dream come true. To referee at this level is a great honour and recognition of my skills, it’s simply amazing! I didn’t think it would ever happen, because I didn’t think Uefa would take the ‘risk’ of putting a woman in charge of this kind of match.”

swissinfo: Are you going to prepare in any special way for this match?

N.P.: “No, I’m going to treat it just like any Swiss football league match. I will train as I usually do, except I don’t know what to expect. In Switzerland, I know the teams, but that isn’t always an advantage.”

swissinfo: Since you are the first woman to referee a European Cup match, do you feel even more pressure than usual?

N.P.: “I do feel some responsibility. If I have a good game, other women referees will get their chance. It will give something to aim for, which is a good motivating factor. I have to make no mistakes so others will get to enjoy the same experience.

The pressure I’m feeling is mostly from the media, but fortunately I’ve had some practice with this in the past.

My first match in Switzerland’s top division, the final of the women’s World Cup in front of 80,000 spectators and my first appearance in the Austrian championship are all experiences that have helped prepare for my next big game.

Each time, I’ve had to answer to the media and shoulder my responsibilities. But August 14 will be a special day for me.”

swissinfo: Urs Meier, Switzerland’s best referee, is your partner. Is that an advantage?

N.P.: “Yes and no. Yes, because we discuss the matches we have refereed, which helps us progress. But at other times, I get the feeling people want me to referee like him. But I still think it’s an advantage.”

swissinfo: You are 36 and you have been a high-level referee for the past four years. What are your aims now?

N.P.: “I don’t really have any goals. I never thought I would have the opportunity to oversee a men’s European Cup match. But now I will do my best to help other women referees get to the top.

If all goes well, I hope I will another chance to repeat this experience. But at the moment, I’m not looking too far ahead. But I hope the future holds more pleasant surprises for me.

swissinfo-interview, Mathias Froidevaux (translation: Scott Capper)

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