Carol Anne Chenard travelled the world with her whistle, taking charge of matches on soccer’s biggest stages.
The lone Canadian referee at the 2012 Olympics, she officiated the first women’s international to be played at Wembley Stadium, a Great Britain-Brazil group match that drew a crowd of 70,584.
“The beginning of really great things to come,” she said, referencing the growing interest in women’s soccer.
The veteran official has announced her retirement from International soccer after some 15 years as a FIFA international referee.
“I’ve been really honoured to have so many awesome opportunities,” Chenard said in a virtual chat with reporters Thursday, “One of the things I’m most proud of is just being able to kind of stay near the top for the last 15 years. They say it’s hard to get there, it’s even harder to stay there.
“Now that I look back, I truly believe that.”
The 43-year-old from Summerside, P.E.I., who now makes her home in Ottawa, was slated to work the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France but withdrew after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
She continues to undergo treatment but says she feels great. “I have nothing to complain about,” she said.
Chenard had hoped to return to action this year but says stepping away now makes sense given the challenges facing international soccer due to COVID-19. She plans to remain involved in the game and has already conducted her first international referee instruction course. She hopes she can use her experience to help younger officials.
Like players, officials are judged by their performance. Only the good ones keep going in top tournaments.
“You’re only as good as your last game …I’m really proud of my ability to adapt as the modern game has adapted,” she said.
Chenard officiated at the 2011 and 2015 Women’s World Cup, the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and was referee for FIFA U-20 World Cup finals in 2010 and 2014.
“Carol Anne Chenard has long been at the pinnacle of international refereeing, breaking barriers over an impressive career that placed her as an inspiration for aspiring referees from coast-to-coast-to-coast,” said Canada Soccer president Steven Reed. “We are proud of and celebrate Carol Anne’s professional achievements and know that she will continue to be a leader for young referees in Canada and abroad.”
Chenard made history in May 2019 as part of the first all-woman crew of on-field officials in the Canadian Premier League when she took charge of the game between Forge FC and Cavalry FC in Hamilton, along with assistants Stephanie Fortin and Chantal Boudreau and fourth official Alexis Vaughan.
“I consider myself a referee, not a female referee,” she said at the time.
After being appointed to the final of the 2016 Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, Chenard was part of a crew of elite female referees to earn appointment to the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017.
In recent years, more female officials have taken their place in top leagues, a recognition of their talent, said Chenard.
“They pass the same fitness tests and they’re held to the same standards,” she said. “I’ve always said players and coaches just want the best referee out there that understands the game and is able to use their soccer understanding to manage the game.
“In my opinion, did it take too long? Yes. But we’re seeing a recognition of the hard work and ability of (female) referees around the world … I can’t wait to see some of these ladies knock it out of the park in these leagues.”
In 2018, Chenard was appointed to both the CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship and the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in France, which were her last major international tournament appointments before her appointment to the 2019 World Cup.
Chenard, who became a FIFA ref in 2006, was just the fourth Canadian referee to serve 15 or more years on the FIFA List of Referees and Assistant Referees.
A former international short-track speedskater from 1998 to 2002, Chenard won six World Cup medals and once co-owned a world record in the 3,000 metres.
She also holds a PhD in microbiology and immunology from McGill University and speaks English, French and Spanish. Away from the soccer field, she works for the federal government in Health Canada with an expertise is compliance and enforcement, regulating companies whose products involve controlled substances.
Chenard took her first officiating course as a teenager at the request of a soccer coach who wanted to ensure the players understood the laws of the game.
At the time, she had no interest in being a referee. But when her speedskating career ended, she was already a provincial official. With support from family and friends, she stuck to it.
“it isn’t an easy profession,” she said. “A lot of the time is spent kind of in the shadows, doing the work.
“We don’t want to be talked about after the game.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 15, 2020
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press