Young Fiji Football Association referee Kajal Prasad is determined to achieve her dream of attaining a FIFA badge in the coming years.
The 21-year-old third year law student of the University of the South Pacific (USP) who is one of the few female referees in the country has been actively officiating in Women’s Futsal, Women’s Super League, Inter District Championship as well as the men’s competition says she is working hard every day to be a better version of herself.
Prasad, who comes from a football background, revealed that she never had the intention to become a referee until she saw female referees such as Jemima Rao and Torika Delai break barriers in a male-dominated sport.
“My dad Sailesh Prasad and my brother Tushal Prasad always encouraged me to play football and I used to follow in their footsteps. I played in my school team and then was invited to play for the Nasinu women’s football team.”
“I went to watch a tournament in Suva the first time I saw Torika and Jemima officiate in the final. It was a women’s and men’s final. Both the matches opened my eyes that I should also give a go and try being a referee because I already knew about the rules of football.”
“My dad had a chat with the former referees director Mr Rakesh Varman. I joined his program and then realised that in that group, I was the only female. The rest were males and I felt a bit nervous because I did not know how to group with them. On the first day, after the session, the male referees included me in their group and made me feel comfortable.”
“Whenever the male referees would go to the fieldwork, they included me and gave me importance. They always advised me to be strong and give my hundred per cent in the course. Mr Varman was very helpful because he guided us throughout the course and told me that if I performed well, I’d get a chance to officiate which I did in 2021. It was an under-16 women’s match where I was the lineswoman.”
The Narere, Nasinu resident further highlighted how she managed to strike the right balance between her studies and the referees course at the Fiji FA Academy in Vatuwaqa, Suva.
“It was very tough. Sometimes when we had the course at the Academy, it would clash with my law classes. I had to try and attend both because it was really important to me. When both wouldn’t balance then I used to sacrifice my lecture and tell my lecturers that I’d attend the online classes which really helped me.”
“The other struggle was family time. Sometimes my family would have to wait for me till late at night when I’d return home. When I was doing the course, it included a lot of fieldwork and traveling which was something new and challenging for me. There were no pick-ups so we had to arrange our own transport.”
“Sometimes, games would go in extra time so if it started at 5pm then it would finish after 8pm or we had to finalise the post-match data and it takes a lot of time. Basically, I had to sacrifice my family time because I was doing what I really loved and it was a good learning experience for me to learn time management and being efficient.”
Prasad is currently a level 2 badge holder and is well aware that achieving an OFC and FIFA badge is not any walk in the park but is content that through hard work and determination, it could be possible.
“The criticism from the fans is not a challenge for me because we just have to do our work right. Sometimes we make mistakes but we learn from that and also from senior referees like Veer Singh who also is a role model to me. I always look up to him because we have seen the struggles he went through and his determination is what keeps me motivated.”
“My plan is to get my full coaching level license from Fiji FA and then experience officiating in football finals so that I can grow my knowledge and learn more about being the central referee. Everyone says OFC and FIFA badge but no one tells us how hard it will be or how we can overcome the challenges to be an OFC and FIFA badge holder.”
“I have seen how much courses and experience are required in attaining an OFC level badge. I have seen people juggle for it. Officials are required to travel to officiate at matches in the region where we know nothing about the teams. We have to be very fair and make sure that we make the right decision.”
“The advantage for me is that we often get to see referees from OFC level come and officiate at the Fiji FA tournaments and also the OFC matches in Fiji where we get to learn from them. They also help us in areas we are weak at,” she added.