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Local woman referees at Gay World Cup
Local woman referees at Gay World Cup
by Liz Meyer - SGN Staff Writer

In late September, the soccer world debated the decision by U.S. Women Nationals Team Coach Greg Ryan to pull goalkeeper Hope Solo in favor of veteran Briana Scurry in the World Cup semifinals. Everyone from The New York Times to team leader Kristine Lilly weighed in on the Solo vs. Scurry story. Swivel.com, a site devoted to data, even compared the number of negative, positive, and neutral stories regarding Hope Solo after her comments made following the U.S. team's loss to Brazil.

A group of 500 some soccer players in Buenos Aires couldn't have cared less.

From Sept. 23-29, these players, representing 28 city squads, including a team from Seattle's own Rain City Soccer Club, competed in the 10th annual International Gay & Lesbian Football Association (IGLFA) World Championship. This year's tournament also marked several milestones, including the 25th anniversary of the Gay Games, as well as the first time South America has hosted the IGLFA Championships.

"You immediately raise your status here in Argentina by being a soccer player," said referee Christine Suter, a certified professional life coach, and one of two females to referee at the IGLFA Championships.

Indeed, soccer doesn't get much bigger than in Argentina, home to Maradona, winner of the FIFA Player of the Century award after an international internet fan poll in 2000.

Suter spoke of her unique experience of getting to be a part of world-class soccer while still being celebrated as a Lesbian.

"Soccer is a great avenue into the general population because we finally all speak the same language - soccer" said Suter.

After playing soccer and running track for 15 years, Suter joined the ranks of sports officials by becoming a ref, logging over 250 games in the past two years.

She still has moments where she has the field vision she once utilized as a player.

"Sometimes I have to hold myself back so I don't try to score," said Suter. "It's just my own instinct for the game. That's when I see the whole field, that's when I think, 'You have the wrong shirt on'."

The athleticism and knowledge of the game that served her so well in her playing years led to the invitation for her to referee at one of soccer's premier venues, the IGLFA World Championship.

Playing alongside fellow Gay and Lesbian teammates appeals to IGLFA players in a way that cannot always be met by playing in the typical rec league, Suter added.

Suter said Buenos Aires made the Gay and Lesbian athletes feel not just welcome, but like celebrities.

"Games were televised, you got recognized in the taxi, 'Oh, you were one of the referees'," said Suter. "We got followed by the press."

According to Suter, the Argentina Football Association [AFA] and FIFA embraced the tournament in two ways. The city provided six untouched playing fields - a very welcome contribution - and 20 young male referees who had just graduated from the country's academy for referee training."

On a low note, the four scheduled women's teams withdrew their participation because there weren't enough squads for a viable competition, said Suter. She mentioned that she would like to see more women involved with IGLFA as a whole - both board members and players.

"And why not more Lesbian referees?" Suter added.

"I'm interested in finding out in what ways IGLFA can enable a critical mass of Lesbian athletes to make it to these events."

The Rain City Soccer Club bills itself as the largest LGBT soccer club in the world. "In 1999, the club made the push to host the IGLFA World Championships, and even secured fields at UW, before the arrangements fell through," said Suter. Suter added that Rain City is toying with the idea of trying to host the Championships in the near future.

If Seattle does win the bid, Suter says, we can all expect a "rainbow event" and she'll be one of the first officials to sign up.

"Soccer is such a vehicle of relating to each other that I can never resist jumping onto it," said Suter. "I am a woman, and a Lesbian, and an athlete, so it's exciting to see it come together in one."


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