It is strange to see a female referee in the middle of a soccer match, but today women are progressing and flourishing in football.
Drusilla Chepkemoi Memo is the only Kenya Premier League(KPL) female referee in the South Rift region. Since her childhood she had a passion for football and played soccer with the boys.
Speaking to KNA at Kapkatet Stadium in Bureti Sub-county, Kericho, Memo states she has been a referee for 11 years and started playing football while in primary school and opted to pursue her interest and dream to the fullest.
Memo was born and raised in Bomet County. She dreamed that one day she will make it to the elusive, testosterone-fuelled world of football.
“While in school I enjoyed watching and playing football and my love for football grew on because my grandmother encouraged and supported my love for this game. She would be keen on finding out where football matches were being played and would pay for me to watch or accompany me to the game. While I was a pupil at Saoset Primary in Bomet County one of my teachers saw my potential at the time I was ten years old. I later transferred to St Patrick primary school in Kericho County and she would come to pick me from school to play at my former school. I got inspired to become a referee by watching the game,” said Memo.
With a genuine passion for football, Memo took to the grass fields in 2009 after completing her secondary school education at Kongotick Secondary School.
The 32-year-old has officiated over 300 matches in various areas within Kericho County. She admits that football was her first choice for a career. She switched her passion to a football referee in 2010.
“It is not something I thought I would choose to be a referee, this did not even register on my radar.” said Memo.
She began her referee career in 2010 by officiating FKF branch league games, provincial league, Division One and National Super League (NSL) assignments.
“I have officiated the Rift valley provincial games, NSL games mostly Zone B assignments, Division One Zone B games and FKF branch league games.” said Memo.
Having risen to the ranks of assistant referee in the Kenya Premier League, she believes that hard work and discipline and above all, prayer is the key to her success.
“I love working as an assistant referee, this is my passion. I do my high intensity physical exercises daily and I must prepare myself a day before I officiate a game,” said Memo.
Memo made history in 2016 when she officiated two teams all in the Kenya Premier League (KPL) between Sony and Nzoia football teams as an assistant female referee.
From the first to the final whistle, Memo looked at the packed Sony stadium and thought about what would happen is she made a mistake on national television.
“I had not officiated KPL league matches before and the two teams were in the KPL league. I was excited and I wanted to do my best. The match was entertaining because all the players were all skilled and few fouls were committed during the 90 minutes of the game. The game ended in a draw with penalty shootouts deciding the fate of the two teams, ” said Memo.
In 2013 the sports dynamo received certification as an assistant referee, a title she holds to date but she already has a number of firsts under her belt.
“My first Physical Endurance Tests (PET) was in the year 2013 January at Nairobi Nyayo Stadium where over 400 referees congregated. I became 27 overall, but number three out of 150 female referees. In the same year July during Division one PET, 300 referees met and I emerged top and I was promoted the following year to NSL. In December 2017 I was promoted to KPL and am now focusing to get a FIFA badge,” said Memo.
Memo believes that her achievements are due to prayer, motivation and support from various people. She praised the support of FKF Vice President Doris Petra, FKF Kericho Chairman Alfred Kirui , FKF Referee Manager Silvestar Kirwa, FKF secretary Samuel Chumo , Baringo FKF chair Kenneth Ruto and Kenya football referees association KFRA Secretary Ibrahim Muganda.
She feels inspired by FIFA assistant referee Gilbert Cheruiyot and FIFA assistant referee Maryanne Njoroge who all have handled top level matches around the world.
In an interview with Kericho FKF branch Chairman Alfred Kirui, he acknowledges her role as a trail blazer in the game and believes that Memo will one day officiate the highest league, the World Cup.
Kirui said he was happy with Memo’s performance and expressed optimism that she will make it to one day officiate the World Cup.
“I have no doubt that Memo will one day qualify to be a FIFA female match official to take charge of men’s FIFA World Cup. She is working hard towards officiating internationally and she is performing well in the FKF premier leagues. We wish her the best of luck as she works towards the highest level. She is the only female referee in our region, the best. Memo is disciplined and a promising referee to watch. She has natured many young female referees; in Kericho seven, Bomet six and seven in Narok,” said Kirui.
Memo adds that she too has received bashing throughout her career but this does not deter her refereeing.
“They talk about the game and not the referee. I have received criticism for my refereeing and that’s part of football. Mostly fans who see that as a woman am not qualified to officiate the game and most want me to bend the rules of the sport in their favor but I always stand my ground and follow the rules of the game. My biggest dream is to referee a game at a major men’s competition,” she added.
By Sarah Njagi