By Stewart Weir
It has been easy over the years to spot the outstanding referee in world football. Pierluigi Collina enjoyed his reign as the game’s best known whistler, while England’s Howard Webb is known the world over.
However, the title of the game’s ‘stand out referee’ arguably now belongs to someone who may never see a World Cup – but may have fans the world over.
Brazilian official Fernanda Colombo Uliana has become something of an internet sensation after her knowledge of the Laws were noticed while she took charge of the Copa do Brasil tie between Sao Paulo and CRB.
The 25-year-old assistant ref has been officiating in Brazil for some, but having been granted FIFA official status by the refereeing committee of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), she was able to make her debut in cup competition.
And this weekend, she could rub shoulders with local superstar Ronaldinho when she runs the line as Atletico Mineiro face Cruzeiro.
"It's the result of all the dedication I've shown. Who wouldn't want to receive recognition in their chosen career, after all? For me it's a huge victory," she told local paper Diario Catarinense.
What will undoubtedly come as a disappointment to her is that millions of new fans are more interested in her looks than her application of the offside or advantage rules.
A personal trainer during the day, she does have ambitions to enjoy a full-time career in the game. And she isn’t alone.
In Italy, match official (and part-time model) Elena Tambini, has been under scrutiny from more than just referee supervisors as she has carved out a career in her country’s lower leagues, although like Uliana, she is tipped for the top.
A decade ago, France had Nelly Viennot as the first woman to be assistant referee in an elite match, eventually rising to Champions League level, while in Germany Bibiana Steinhaus regularly officiates in second division games and Cup games.
In England, mother of two Amy Fearn became the first female to take charge of an FA Cup tie when last November, she had the final say when Corby Town met Dover Athletic, so completing an unique double having also been the first woman to take charge of a match in the Football League.
All of the above have proven that women make for fine officials, so anyone who feels females have no place in the game should keep their thoughts to themselves.
Back in Brazil’s lower leagues, Juventus de Santa Catarina's coach Celso Teixeira found himself in trouble after suggesting assistant referee Maira Americano Labes was ‘gostoso’ - which translates from Portuguese into ‘tasty!’
Labes quite rightly pointed out, "Beauty should pass unnoticed. I’d like for the day to come for women to be recognised for their work just like men.”
And how can we forget what befell then Sky Sports hosts Richard Keys and pundit Andy Gray when the said, off air, that female officials "don't know the offside rule" after seen assistant referee Sian Massey appointed for a game between Wolves and Liverpool. They were made to apologise, with their thoughts quite rightly deemed "not acceptable".
The hope must now be that the likes Uliana continue to fly the flag for female officials everywhere and inspire others to follow in their footsteps.