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Soccer referee who also guides jets

- Flight Lt Fernandes the first woman from IAF to be certified by AIFF

Siliguri, Sept.2: When Uvena Fernandes is not flashing red and yellow cards at soccer players, she directs pilots on the air traffic control radio.

Flight Lieutenant Fernandes is the first woman in the Indian Air Force to be certified by the All India Football federation as a national referee.

Tomorrow, she will be at her biggest tournament — the Subroto Cup in New Delhi — after becoming a national referee.

Fernandes works as an air traffic control (ATC) officer with 20 Wings at the Bagdogra IAF station.

“From 2003 onwards, she has been conducting matches across the country. Now that she has been conferred the status of a national referee by the AIFF, she is preparing for the Subroto Cup in in New Delhi that starts on September 3,” an IAF source said.

In 2003, Fernandes became the first woman referee to qualify through the Goa Football Association’s selection process. After earning her grade-II referee status in January this year, she has refereed in several national-level matches.

These included the sub-junior National Mir Iqbal Hussain trophy held in Goa and the under-17 BC Roy Trophy in Siliguri.

Fernandes, who hails from Goa, first showed promise in athletics. She started playing football in her college days. After playing for her college and the state, she represented India at the Asian Football Championship in Bangkok in 2003.

Deft at basketball and handball as well, Fernandes — she is a law and commerce graduate and has a bachelor's degree in physical education — joined the Air Force Academy in Dindigul in 2006.

As a cadet, her sports fitness credentials earned her an award. “Also, being the only lady cadet who could play football, she competed with male cadets at the National Defence Academy (NDA) at Khadakwasla, Pune,” an IAF source said.

Was it a problem playing with the boys? Fernandes laughs. “Playing with boys at the NDA meet was not difficult. It was, however, difficult for the boys because I used to take the ball away and they got chided for that.”

Her talent in sports led to her appointment as academy cadet captain, the highest appointment for cadets, also a first for a woman flight cadet at Air Force Academy.

According to the list of referees mentioned on the AIFF website, there are at least five other women referees in India certified by the AIFF.

Three of them are also approved by FIFA.

“Flt Lt Uvena is now aiming for the grade-I status ratification by FIFA to be an international referee,” the IAF source said.