Having officiated at the Under-20 Women's World Cup in Japan in 2012 and the U-17 tournament in Costa Rica last year, Singaporean football referee Abirami Naidu will complete a unique treble when she takes up the whistle at next month's Women's World Cup in Canada.
The police officer will join an exclusive list of Singaporeans who had refereed at the World Cup Finals. They are referees Shamsul Maidin (2006) and the late George Suppiah (1974), and assistant referees K. Visvanathan (2002) and Jeffrey Goh (2010), who all officiated in the men's tournament.
"Going to the World Cup means my hard work has paid off. It's every referee's dream," Naidu, 31, told The Straits Times.
To reach what she described as the biggest platform, which runs from June 6 to July 5, it took a decade of hard work to bear fruit.
A former international for the Lionesses from 2000 to 2009, the former defender and midfielder picked up the whistle in 2004 before becoming the first Singaporean woman referee to be accredited by Fifa, the sport's world governing body, in 2009. She also officiated at the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games.
She is seen mostly at Under-18 Centre of Excellence and Prime League men's matches.
Unlike footballers who train as a team, hers is a lonely routine. By the time Naidu gets to the Kallang Practice Track for fitness training on working days, it is 9pm.
"Sometimes I do wonder why I chose refereeing, especially when I'm too tired to train. Why not lead a normal life? It takes a lot of discipline and self-motivation, but I have to remind myself why I am doing this," she said.
Apart from building up her stamina, she also studies videos of the teams she will handle to understand their style of play and the behaviour of their players.
It is this work ethic that won her a stamp of approval from Massimo Busacca, Fifa's head of refereeing, who was in Singapore last month to conduct a seminar.
The Swiss said: "She's reached the World Cup (with) her quality. She deserves it and it's not a gift for sure."
Naidu, who thanked the Singapore Police Force and the Football Association of Singapore for their understanding and patience over the years, was in a state of disbelief when she received an e-mail from Fifa in late March inviting her to confirm her participation as one of the 29 selected from around the world.
While seven will eventually be support referees after a seminar in Vancouver early next month, Naidu wants to impress the selectors. "It's very hard to be selected especially coming from Singapore - so it's a great achievement personally," she said.
"(But) I have to do everything possible with this opportunity by reading all the materials and also learning online.
"If you prepare and train well, there shouldn't be any fear. Most things will fall in place. At this high level, we must leave everything else aside and be totally focused."
This article was first published on May 18, 2015.
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