Vadim Furmanov –
In Sunday’s early afternoon Ukrainian Premier League fixture, Volyn Lutsk managed an injury time equalizer to earn a point at home against Chornomorets Odessa. The match has few implications for the league. Volyn will withdraw UPL next season, and Chornomorets are too far down the table to compete for European spots. Nevertheless, this was a highly anticipated fixture, but the attention was not directed at the players. It was directed instead at Kateryna Monzul who was, for the first time in league history, a woman referee in charge of a match in the top flight of Ukrainian football.
Monzul, who is from the Kharkiv region, played football at an amateur level as a child. At the age of 18 she decided to direct her efforts toward officiating, following in the footsteps of her uncle, a former linesman in the UPL.
“My relatives were involved in refereeing, and I also wanted to try it out for myself,” she explained in an interview last year. “So when I was faced with a decision [between playing and becoming a referee], I preferred refereeing. Time has revealed that I made the right choice.”
Monzul Began her Career in 2002
Monzul began her career in 2002 in the youth levels of Ukrainian football, and two years later she was selected as a FIFA international referee. By 2005 she was officiating men’s matches in the third division and in September of that year was granted her international debut—a friendly between the women’s national teams of Finland and Poland.
In 2009 Monzul was chosen as a referee for the UEFA Women’s European Championship, and in the same year the Football Federation of Ukraine addressed the issue of allowing her to officiate matches in the Persha Liha—the second division of Ukrainian football. Monzul had the backing of FFU Vice President Serhiy Storozhenko, but the head of the referee committee Vadym Shevchenko was opposed to the decision. The Executive Committee sided with Shevchenko.
Nevertheless, two years later, Monzul was selected to referee a Persha Liha clash between FC Odesa and FC Krymteplitsia. After the match, Odesa manager Andriy Parkhomenko criticized her performance in blatantly sexist terms: “Of course, I do not want to hurt anyone, but I do not understand how a woman can be a referee in football. She tried, but it was laughable, you need to play football to be a referee.”
The criticism did not faze Monzul, whose rapid rise continued. In 2013 she was once again selected to officiate at the Women’s Euros in Sweden. She took charge of three matches at the tournament, including the semifinal between Norway and Denmark. The following year Monzul refereed the final of the Women’s Champions League Final with an all-Ukrainian officiating crew.
In 2015 Monzul was Voted as the Best Female Referee in the World
By this point in her career, Monzul was already widely considered one of the leading woman referees in the world, and at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada she received the honor of officiating both the opening and final matches. At the end of the year the IFFHS overwhelmingly selected Monzul as the best female referee of 2015.
With her international reputation firmly established, this year Monzul has also taken a more prominent role in local football. In March, Monzul became the first woman member of the Executive Committee of the FFU and, on March 29, she was officially announced as the referee for the Volyn vs Chornomorets match. FFU President Andriy Pavelko fully supported the decision, and said to the football channel Futbol, “to have at our disposal the best referee in the world and to not bring her to the Premier League is perhaps a little bit unfair.”
And so, on April 3, Monzul became the first woman referee to lead the teams out in a Ukrainian Premier League encounter. Her performance was not without controversy—the second yellow card shown to Chornomorets captain Artem Filimonov was a harsh decision, and the corner on which Chornomorets opened the scoring should never have been given.
The Fine Line Between Sexism and Criticism
Oleksandr Babich, the Chornomorets manager, was lightly critical of Monzul. “It is difficult to judge a referee’s debut in the Premier League immediately after the match,” he said in his post-match press conference. “There were moments when I think that play should have been allowed to continue—both for our side and for the opponent.”
“After all, this is a men’s sport – you have to allow them to fight,” Babich continued, “but I think her debut worked out well.”
Volyn Shabanov made similar remarks, acknowledging that Monzul made several errors but overall had a good match.
While not an ideal debut, it certainly was a satisfactory one, and Monzul should continue to officiate matches in Ukraine’s top flight. Her dream is to take charge of the men’s Champions League Final one day. For now, however, she will have to be content with domestic football—Monzul has already made history.
Vadim Furmanov is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. Originally from Ukraine, Vadim has resided in Chicago since 1994 and is a passionate supporter of both Dynamo Kyiv and the Ukrainian national team. He is also a Chicago Fire season ticket holder and a member of the Fire’s Section 8 supporters group. He writes primarily about Ukrainian football, as well as the intersection between football, politics, and history. You can follow Vadim on Twitter @vfurmanov.