She sets the ball rolling

G. Ruba Devi. Photo: R. Ashok  

“Refereeing is like a tightrope walk,” says G. Ruba Devi, the first woman from Tamil Nadu to qualify as FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) referee. “There is no time to relax on the field. You are always on your toes keeping a close eye on the players,” she says. Ruba is the only Indian woman at the FIFA’s list to referee international matches.

Hailing from Dindigul, Ruba was never in the race to become a referee. She was just like any other football player aspiring to represent the country. In hot pursuit of her dream, Ruba went on to become the captain of State women’s football team. The realisation came when there were no tournaments for women at the national level. “It was a crucial period in my life. I lost my parents and was living with my sister’s family and finding it difficult to make ends meet. Luckily, the Dindigul District Football Association supported me. Senior players and my well wishers advised me to become a referee because I could not have afforded even an injury,”

Ruba’s passion for football was nurtured at St. Joseph’s Girls Higher Secondary School, where she found a ‘Prabhu Selvaraj’ (Madhavan’s character in Irudhi Suttru) in Justin Arokiadoss. He helped her learn the sport and encouraged her to join the school team. “I started playing for the school team when I was in Sixth standard. At that time our team represented the district in several tournaments and it was a good learning ground for me,” she says.

Ruba went on to play Dindigul district football league and joined GTN College for graduation in Chemistry. She also represented Madurai Kamaraj University in several football matches and was respected for her skills as midfielder. Her interest in sports propelled her to join B.P.Ed course in Annamalai University. After studies she worked as a physical education teacher in Montfort School, Yercaud, but resigned when her parents fell ill. “I also found it difficult to participate in matches as my teaching job did not allow long periods of absence.”

But for S. Shanmugam, secretary of the Dindigul District Football Association, Ruba would have never taken the national referee examination. She was the only girl among 60 candidates who appeared for the exams. The exam constituted a series of fitness tests and a written exam on rules and regulations of the game. She came out with flying colours. “The reason for my success was international referee Sankar Komaleeswaran, who was the external examiner. He encouraged and supported me during my fitness tests. I was supposed to complete 10 to 12 laps of the 400m track. He egged me on to complete it,” she says.

After which she did not wait for opportunities and right away started officiating local matches. DDFA also supported her and even appointed her to referee men’s matches.

As part of the Project Future India programme, she attended a training camp and got selected to represent the country in Asian level football matches. After two years of strenuous training she was selected as main referee for the under-14 football matches for South and Central Asian countries in Sri Lanka. “I was in the business for the inaugural match and I was also asked to do the duty for the final match,” she beams with pride.

Ruba’s creditable show earned her a call to officiate as main referee for West Asian countries matches held in Doha. Based on her performances, the Asian Football Confederation selected her to represent India for an international training camp under Project Future Asia programme in Malaysia and Maldives. “It was an eye opener for me as I learnt a lot from the visiting international referees from all over the world,” she says.

Returning from the recently concluded South Asian Games for women held in Shillong, Ruba feels that there are not so many opportunities for women footballers in the country and calls for an exclusive football league for them.

“Sheer dedication and hard work have brought her this far. Ruba’s success has motivated many women and there is a spurt in applications for the upcoming referee examination,” says Shanmugam.

Having earned a name as a dependable referee, Ruba is now hoping to get a call to officiate matches in Rio De Janeiro Olympics later this year.

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Printable version | Jan 15, 2021 5:53:16 PM |

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