• Pannipar Kamnueng officiated matches in a series of FIFA tournaments
  • Last year she became the AFC Referees Department’s first female manager
  • “Female referees can perform well in men’s matches if given opportunities”

When Pannipar Kamnueng was appointed Thailand FA’s Director of Referees Department in 2016, she became the world’s first female to hold such a position in a national association.

The appointment was a testament to her pedigree as a top-quality former international referee having officiated matches in a series of FIFA women’s tournaments. Successful as she was, however, Kamnueng quickly became aware of the added layer of challenges she would face.

“It was difficult for a woman to lead over a thousand men of different characters,” Kamnueng, who was appointed AFC Referees Department’s Manager in mid-2019, told FIFA.com. “I had to think and work hard to manage their development both on the domestic front and at the international level.

“There was a lot of pressure. At times, I sat alone and cried secretly for some frustrating reasons which I couldn’t tell anyone. But I was determined to do the job well. Before as a referee I had experiences of dealing with all sorts of difficulties. Nothing could stop me working hard.”

As it turned out, three years of hard work saw Kamnueng achieve new success in the managerial role with a growing number of qualified referees developed during her tenure. “We have produced quite a few Thai referees who have grown into qualified international referees,” the 44-year-old said. “I am happy to make my family proud of me.”

Pannipar Kamnueng poses for a photo at the 2017 AFC Gala

Developing in FIFA tournaments

An athletic youngster interested in multiple sports in her early days, Kamnueng gravitated towards playing football. Following university she turned to refereeing on the advice of a teacher. Having spent a few years officiating matches on the domestic front, her career turned a new leaf when she was nominated as a match official in the , hosted by Thailand.

Having officiated a group match between Russia and Spain, Kamnueng’s second test came in a quarter-final encounter between Brazil and Russia. During the match she awarded the Brazilians a free-kick from which the South Americans scored and went on to win. But after the match, she realised her decision was a mistake. “I knew I needed to work hard and improve.”

Kamnueng continued to make progress on the international scene being the first Asian referee to officiate a final match at the Algarve Cup [in 2006], before embracing what was her first FIFA Women’s World Cup™ at China 2007 where she was appointed to officiate a group game between Brazil and New Zealand.

“It was really a dream come true to work at a Women’s World Cup for me,” she said. “I was the first Thai female referee to do so in the Women’s World Cup. And this time I was calm and had a decent match as the referee because I had completed a thorough preparation thanks to FIFA in the lead-up.”

Kamnueng didn’t look back thereafter. She went on to figure at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament China 2008, before appearing in the inaugural Youth Olympic Games 2010 in Singapore. Her career culminated when she officiated the third-place play-off between Venezuela and Italy in the 2014 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica.

“I started as a young referee in 2004 and ten years on, I ended up officiating one of the final-stage matches at a FIFA tournament,” she said. “They were great experiences working at all these FIFA tournaments. I had the opportunity of witnessing first-class professionalism by the players and officials alike. The competition levels [at FIFA tournaments] were very high so I learned how to work under pressure.”

Fresh goals

By any standards, Kamnueng is highly accomplished and a big inspiration for young girls pursuing a refereeing career across the world. And with her new role leading the AFC Referees Department, she has been able to set fresh goals for herself, primarily to promote female referees’ opportunities officiating in men’s competitions.

“I strongly feel female referees can perform well in men’s matches if they are given enough opportunities. I am for the women referees who passed the men’s fitness test and served in this year’s AFC Cup,” she said, citing the three Japanese referees who formed an all-female officiating team in an AFC Cup match in May 2019.

“Now I am on a project aimed at promoting female referees’ fitness and my goal is to have an Asian woman referee to officiate a FIFA World Cup match. We will try to promote the women’s referee’s work across Asia, to enhance their quality and help them reach world-class levels.”

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