Mexican referee Karen Díaz, during a Liga MX match on September 1, 2022.Leopoldo Smith (Getty Images)
The smile of Karen Díaz (Aguascalientes, 38 years old) hides a ton of insults that she has received for being a referee.
Most of them happened when she was beginning to be a judge in the battered fields of the neighborhood.
They questioned her knowledge of her regulations just because she was a woman.
Díaz, from minute zero, refused to victimize himself.
In her place, she stood firm to appease those amateur players who only wanted to get angry.
To those in the stands, better not even listen to them.
That temper and talent of hers has helped her to be one of the 69 people who referee in the World Cup in Qatar.
At this point, she has been a substitute referee in the matches between Spain-Costa Rica, as well as Portugal-Ghana.
Díaz is, together with the French Stéphanie Frappart, the Rwandan Salima Mukansanga, the Japanese Yoshimi Yamashita, the American Kathryn Nesbitt and the Brazilian Neuza Back, one of the women who will be part of the FIFA refereeing team at the World Cup.
In the assignments that the body has given, updated until this Friday, there has not been a woman as central referee or line assistant, they have all been substitutes or fourth referee, as in the case of Frappart, who participated in the Mexico-Poland and It will do so in Portugal-Ghana.
Karen Díaz wanted to be a soccer player, she even participated in the youth teams of the Mexican national team.
She was unable to dedicate herself professionally as a player because there was no League for women in Mexico.
Without a place to play, let alone a living wage.
So she decided to study specialized engineering in the agro-industrial field.
To pay for her studies, she refereed those neighborhood games.
For each game she earned about two dollars and she did it secretly from her parents.
Díaz, who rarely talks to the press, told EL PAÍS in 2017 that the referee never came to one of her matches with the national team, so she decided to take command and that is how she began her story in arbitration.
“She was always the best of her generation, better than her fellow men.
She always stood out in the physical tests, she was very attentive and was not ashamed to ask about everything”, says Gilberto Alcalá, one of the most important referees in his country.
Díaz started in the lower divisions as a central referee, but from the Mexican Referees Commission, headed by the whistling Edgardo Codesal, it was decided that Díaz's role would be that of line referee.
"Right now it is difficult to go from assistant to center back, although it would not be a bad thing if she were the exception," Alcalá concludes.
The Mexican referees, according to Alcalá, receive psychological sessions to combat the grievances that are heard from the stands and, especially, the macho comments.
“We trained all of them at that point, but even if we gave her those talks, Karen is very strong mentally, with each insult she became stronger.
She thrives on punishment, ”says Alcalá.
The pioneer is called Virginia Tovar.
The referee broke stone in a world "hyper macho and where they put many obstacles", as she herself defines it.
Tovar wanted to referee in the Mexican First Division and for this she had to overcome the lower divisions.
She put up with comments from her own colleagues: “Don't stain,
why do you want to be a referee?
or even remember that the Tigres club asked the Arbitration Commission that its match against Irapuato in 2004 not be refereed by a woman.
Tovar only led four games in the Mexican League and added up to 86 as a substitute.
He is the only one, so far, who has been the central referee in Mexico.
She withdrew from arbitration due to the obstacles placed by the arbitration leaders in her country: from her distrust for being a woman to the disparity of opportunities compared to her peers.
When Virginia Tovar found out that Karen Díaz was going to the World Cup, she called her on the phone.
— I go with you on your shoulders, I project myself into you.
I prefer not to see the Mexican team to see my fellow referees and you, Karen — Tovar said
"Master... I can't believe you're talking to me," Diaz replied.
— Oh, my God, you're Karen Díaz!
You have shown us that you have all the capacity in the world —added Virginia Tovar.
Karen Díaz symbolizes the triumph of the Mexican referees.
At the end of October, the National Commission for Sports and Physical Culture (Conade) awarded her the National Sports Award for the best referee in the country.
In Mexico, the Mexican referee has participated in the Mexican League finals and in Concacaf tournaments.
Since 2018 she has been certified by FIFA as an international whistler, one of her great merits in her profession.
“I came out of several amateur matches in tears and, at the time, I was like 'What the hell am I doing?'
But after an hour I thought that this had to give me gasoline to keep going and then to that player who was yelling at me I always said 'He's going to see me on television and he's going to swallow what he's saying to me,' Díaz told this journal.
Now, her name and her ingenuity when it comes to marking the offside will be in the world showcase.
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