Early Doors

Brazil’s newest FIFA ref causes internet sensation

Early Doors

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Fernanda Colombo Uliana

Early Doors has always been suspicious of football referees. Deciding to become one of the men in black has always seemed a peculiarly cruel bargain with the devil: sure, you get to be involved in football at a level that could be far higher than your own skill, and we can kind of understand getting a kick out of blowing the whistle and laying down the law.

But are those minor thrills really worth becoming the sporting equivalent of a traffic warden? Is the uniform and the whistle or flag adequate compensation for the constant barrage of abuse from fans and players, aggression that often borders on physical assault, and guaranteed public humiliation every time you make a mistake? It's not as if there's money in it: unless you get to the very highest level, the money on offer equates to little more than petrol expenses.

For a man in early middle age it all might be worth it, of course. But if you were a young, beautiful woman with the world at your feet, would you still give up your weekends to be a match official?

You would if you were 25-year-old Fernanda Colombo Uliana, an up-and-coming match official from Brazil who caused a minor earthquake on the internet when she ran the line at the Brazilian Cup match between Sao Paolo and CRB this week.

Fernanda has just been granted FIFA official status by the refereeing committee of the Brazilian FA (aka the CBF), hence her appearance in such a high profile match.

And rather than regretting the fact that she will now have to have abuse hurled at her from far larger crowds, she is delighted that her career has moved on to the next level - both for herself, and for women in general.

"It's one more step towards winning people over," she told local paper Diario Catarinense.

Fernanda still has a day job, working as a personal trainer specialising in hydro-fitness at a gym in Florianopolis, but it's clear she has eyes on a full-time career in football.

"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."

Fernanda Colombo Uliana in Diario Caterinense. Can you imagine Phil Dowd getting this sort of coverage?

Her words should not be taken lightly: sexism is far more rife in Brazil than most in Europe would credit, as a look at any football club's website might show - they commonly feature naked models and porn stars to attract fans, as our special report in March explained.

Things are changing, however. Last month, a Brazilian manager landed himself in hot water after allegedly calling another female official, Maira Americano Labes, "gostoso" literally, 'tasty' - after being ordered from the sidelines during a match.

The manager in question, Ceslo Teixera of Juventus de Santa Catarina, denied everything, saying the comment had come from the stands.

"This is a joke. From the moment she walked onto the pitch in that uniform, there were insults coming down from the stands the whole time. I’m sure someone called her 'gostoso', but it wasn’t me."

Maria was not impressed: "Beauty should pass unnoticed. I’d like for the day to come for women to be recognized for their work just like men," she said.

That seems to be a distant dream, however, and the budding referees' actions show that they are fully aware of it. Both Fernanda and Maria have taken part in the sort of photoshoots which no male referee would ever be asked to do, and both have posted bikini pictures of themselves on Facebook - images which have quickly roared their way around the internet.

Diario Caterinense carried 11 different pictures of Fernanda in the slideshow accompanying its article. Will they …

Still, all that seems like small beer compared to another Brazilian official, Ana Paula de Oliveira, who posed naked for Playboy to get herself noticed back in 2007.

Such tactics have raised awareness of this new wave of female Brazilian officials, however, so much so that Brazilian magazine Hora recently ran an online poll for readers to vote who was the hottest female football official in the game: between Fernanda, Maria or Nadine Câmara Bastos.

Fernanda won the poll, taking over 75 per cent of the vote. Only time will tell whether she'll win a reputation, whether good or bad, for her football nous - rather than just being known as the "hot blonde one".

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