Eight years ago, Bentla D’couth was the toast of Indian football when she got a chance to officiate at the 2004 Olympics. She was the only woman referee from Asia at the Athens Games.
But now, just days before the London Olympics, she is a picture of despair.
The country’s first woman to become a FIFA referee and now an Asian Football Confederation’s Elite Referee Instructor, Assessor and Referee Recruiter, Bentla has virtually been banned by the AIFF’s Referees Committee which has also forced the AFC to withdraw the assignments given to her.
Her only crime: Since the AIFF has not conducted any women’s events after May 2011, she had asked for national men’s assignments, which she desperately needs for her future life as an AFC Elite Instructor and Assessor.
For this, the 44-year-old Bentla had been humiliated and has had her credentials questioned by the AIFF’s Head of Referees Department Goutam Kar.
“He questioned my qualifications, eligibility and merit while denying me men’s assignments. I got insulted,” said the Kochi-based Bentla, a former international who has played in the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games, three Asian Championships and officiated in two Asian Games and two junior World Cups.
“He told me that whatever I had achieved so far was through ‘short cut’ and whatever competitions I had done as a national player, FIFA referee and AFC instructor, assessor and recruiter were all in the women’s category where the level of the matches were very low,” said Bentla, who also officiated in the London Olympics’ Asian Qualifiers in Jordan late last year.
A sad and hurt Bentla had written to K.M.I. Mather, the Kerala Football Association President, regarding this and he, in turn, had asked the AIFF President Praful Patel to investigate the matter and take appropriate action.
Bentla’s letter was discussed at the AIFF’s Referees Committee meeting in Jamshedpur last month and in his reply, A.R. Dev, the committee chairman, had explained that since “Bentla has not appeared for any exam or test as applicable to men’s instructors/assessors till date, she is not considered as AIFF Referees Instructor for men’s events.” It also added that “she is a AFC Women Referees Instructor, hence appointed for women’s events of national importance by the AIFF.”
No more assignments
The committee, which said it felt insulted by Bentla’s letter which spoke of ‘the pathetic discrimination, mental torture and harassment shown against a woman by the AIFF’s HoR, had asked her to explain her conduct and added that till it is satisfied with her reply, no assignments would be given to her by the AIFF. It also said that the Referees Committee would also request the AFC to withhold all assignments to Bentla till disposal of the matter.
Surprisingly, A.R. Dev had this to say when contacted on Tuesday night, “the whole case is being handled by Goutam Kar (the Head of Referees against whom Bentla had complained). You can talk to him.”
A few minutes later, when this correspondent spoke to Goutam Kar – who is currently in Madurai to organise a course for elite referees, instructors and assessors – he said he was busy with the course.
Incidentally, Bentla was not invited for the referees committee meeting to explain her stand.
“It will be fair, if an independent and impartial inquiry, without Mr. Goutam Kar, is conducted regarding my case,” said Bentla.
Ironically, Goutam Kar himself had invited Bentla to be an instructor, along with Tamil Nadu’s K. Sankar, Assam’s M.K. Roy and IFA’s Pradip Nag, at the Project Future India 2012: First Exposure course held in New Delhi in February and March this year. And there is a significant line, that Kar had added in that letter, which says, “we appreciate your contribution for the development of referees.”
Bentla had voluntarily retired from active refereeing in 2010 and the then AIFF General Secretary Alberto Colaco and the AIFF Referees Committee had nominated her directly for the FIFA Referee Instructors Course along with Mr. Antony D’costa and M.K. Roy. And she was made an AFC Elite Instructor based on her performance.
“Last year, the AIFF had assigned me as an assessor for the women’s nationals where 12 of the 14 referees were men and this included Raktim Saha who had officiated in the recent Santosh Trophy final. And in July last year, I was appointed as the course instructor for the FIFA/MA Elite referees held in Chennai which was attended by 32 male referees and two women.”
By labelling her as an instructor and assessor for women’s only events, Bentla says the AIFF has interpreted her designation wrongly. “It is a wrong interpretation and as a woman I deeply feel that I have been discriminated against, on the basis of gender,” she said.
“Because the AFC has only an Elite Referee Instructors course and I’m one of the Elite Instructors, like Mr. K. Sankar who did the AFC Referee Instructor course along with me in Kuala Lumpur in February this year. The FIFA or the AFC does not conduct a separate course for instructors, who are supposed to assess, instruct or teach only women referees.”
She has brought out these points in her reply to the AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das a few days ago.
Seeing the plight of his daughter, Bentla’s father Lawrence D’couth has also written to the President of India Pratibha Patil, the Union Sports Minister Ajay Maken and the AIFF President Praful Patel to reinstate his daughter and for an impartial inquiry.