Ground breaker Alves' Club World Cup selection 'dream come true'

Edina Alves has two decades of experience as a football referee

Edina Alves made history this week when she was named as a referee at next month's Club World Cup, and she says her boundary-breaking feat is the product of two decades of preparation and hard work.

Brazilian Alves, 40, is set become the first woman to officiate a professional men's football match organized by FIFA when she takes charge of a game at the tournament, after spending half her life refereeing.

"Nothing fell from the sky for me," she tells AFP in an interview.

Alves called her selection Monday for the tournament in Qatar, which runs between February 1-11, "a dream come true."

"I worked very hard, preparing myself for the day I would get a chance like this," she says.

Alves comes from the small rural town of Goioere, in the southern state of Parana.

She put herself through night school for a degree in physical education by working at a garden shop, shoveling dirt into bags.

As a young woman, she played five-on-five futsal. But in a world where men and machismo still dominate the game, she struggled to find enough teammates to put together a full women's football team, and never got the chance to play professionally.

"I played on my town's futsal team, but there was no women's professional football in those parts," she says.

- Love at first whistle -

She got her start refereeing in 1999, when she was asked to fill in as an assistant referee at an amateur match.

It was love at first whistle.

"I couldn't get enough of it," she says with a grin.

By 2000, she was officiating professionally. Sometimes she served as a lineswoman, sometimes as the chief referee -- a job she took on full-time in 2014.

In 2019, she became the first woman to officiate a Brazilian men's first division match in 14 years. She has since added another 12 Brasilerao matches to her resume.

The same year, she refereed four matches at the Women's World Cup in France, including the semi-final between the United States and England.

"FIFA treats referees based purely on their ability, not their gender. If you're good, there's room for you," she said.

"We women are all preparing ourselves to rise to the challenge."

Besides Alves, who was chosen as one of seven chief referees, FIFA also named fellow women Neuza Back of Brazil and Mariana de Almeida of Argentina as two of the 12 assistant referees for the Club World Cup.

- Olympic dream -

Women have refereed high-level football before, but never a professional men's match organized by the sport's top governing body.

Esther Staubli of Switzerland and Claudia Umpierrez of Uruguay have both officiated at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup.

In 2017, Bibiana Steinhaus of Germany became the first woman to officiate for a major men's league in Europe when she debuted in the Bundesliga.

And Stephanie Frappart of France last month became the first woman to referee a men's UEFA Champions League match.

Now Alves is set to break that barrier for FIFA at the Club World Cup, which will feature top teams including European champions Bayern Munich.

She does not plan to stop there.

Her next goal is to referee at this year's Tokyo Olympics.

"Who wouldn't want to go to the Olympics?" she said.

"I do. And I'm working to get there."