The very first female referee in men’s football worldwide

Whoa, that’s a sensation: a female referee officiating a championship match in Brazilian football. Not now or 30 years ago, but almost 100 years ago. The German newspaper “Echo der Gegenwart“ (“Echo of the Present”) of 28 October 1933 bears witness to what was perhaps the first woman to not only officiate a charity or friendly match: “Miss Colona” from Rio de Janiero.

First female referee and a smile

Her first name is unfortunately not mentioned, but we learn from the article that she was a student at the university of the Brazilian capital and a respected member of the academic “Society of Rio”.

The article tells us that – surprisingly for the audience – a woman is in charge of a championship match between two men’s teams. However, Ms. Colona is apparently known to and appreciated by the public, because “[s]he was greeted with greater applause than the most popular stars among the football players”. She is lucky to be in charge of the game even in very difficult situations because she smiles. Smiling – this word comes up very often and the author of the article was obviously keen to point out the effect of smiling: It put people at ease.

Between cliché and progressiveness

The newspaper “Echo der Gegenwart” was a newspaper from Aachen (today’s West Germany, near the border to the Netherlands), which was Catholic-oriented. The beginning of the article suggests that it will be full of arrogant clichés, because the author expresses prejudice against people in South America: very emotional, acting in the heat of the moment and not having enough control over themselves – “There, outbursts of enthusiasm and expressions of displeasure sometimes take on forms that can send the calm European into mild horror.”

But the fear does not come true with Colona as a person, because he does not go into her appearance. (Even most of the media can’t do that these days!) The only thing that can be seen as sexist is that she smiles (women smile, men are serious). But because there is no other reflection on her appearance, I understand it as an expression of an open, cooperative and communicative character trait, i.e. the one that is currently popular among referees: They lead the game, but don’t show off. Quite in line with the ideal of the “leader” in New Work because an authoritarian boss.

Open questions remain

  • Now, I am not a connoisseur of Brazilian football history and I am happy to receive news from experts. Because questions remain unanswered such as:
  • Who was this Senhorita Colona? What made her so prestigious? Did she get more games in Brazilian men’s football? (I searched for her name in connection with “arbitrá” and “Senhorita” but found nothing helpful).
  • Is the university the “PUC-Rio”, the Catholic University in Rio de Janiero (“Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro”)? In which league or competition did it play in 1933?
  • Did Colona study at the same university? And then directed a championship game of her institution?
  • Did the Brazilian federation field any other women in men’s games after 1933?
  • What “Rio society” is this? It has members from the academic environment, but what else was there?

I would be extremely pleased if someone could help me.

Want to know more about the development of female referees?

Here you will find an overview. A collection of links to female referees on my very first blog NACHSPIELZEITEN.

It contains

  • all female referees in the first men’s football leagues of their country or international competitions (certainly not complete – I welcome additions!)
  • the milestones in the history of female referees
  • matches in men’s football with all-female refereeing teams in recent time

The article about the first female referee – in full

Here is the complete article translated into English (thanks to DeepL):

Miss referee

Brazil educates its football public

“The office of referee at football matches is not generally regarded as an unalloyed pleasure. Least of all in South America, where the tempestuous temperament of the public and the players always make a football match a most exciting affair. There, outbursts of enthusiasm and expressions of displeasure sometimes take on forms that can send the calm European into mild horror. One will therefore understand the surprise of the spectators when, during a decisive championship match between the University of Rio and a provincial team, the referee appeared on the pitch and turned out to be a Miss Referee. The young lady was university student Miss Colona, Brazil’s first female referee and also a popular member of Rio society. She was greeted with greater applause than the most popular stars among the football players.

„The game began and on this occasion it became apparent that Miss Colona was no worse at her job than her male colleagues. She ran across the pitch, whistled and made warning arm movements when a player was about to break the rules of the game. And through it all, Miss Colona smiled a lovely, friendly smile, at the sight of which all grimness and doggedness melted away like butter in the sun. If now and then a player’s temper got the better of him, Miss Colona smiled – and the villain smiled back. The opposing teams kept great discipline.

“It went on like that until five minutes before the end. Then it suddenly became critical. A defender had “knocked down” his opponent in the penalty area. According to the rules of the game, a penalty kick should be awarded in this case. In Rio, if the score was tied, a referee would only order the penalty kick at this point if he had already finished with his life. For in the next moment, the supporters of the penalised team would infallibly lynch him.

„Indeed, a tremendous noise arose in the stands when Miss Colona interrupted the game. The crowd rose from their seats, some players surrounded the referee in agitation. But Miss Colona stood calmly with her whistle in her mouth and smiled. And then, smiling, she whistled the signal for the penalty kick.

“She was not lynched, even though the Rio team lost 1-0. But the Brazilian federation is carrying itself with the intention of adding some smiling Donnas to its panel of referees….”

(Source: Echo der Gegenwart, 28 October 1933)

First female referee