Yolanda Parga Rodríguez: “If I were born again, I would be a referee again”
We continue with #UnaSemanaUnaFederacion (One Week, One Federation), a Laboratorio Hipermedia campaign in which each month we talk during a whole week about the main projects of an Spanish local federation, also interviewing to a relevant person in the world of refereeing in the region.
The previous month we could talk with Marta Huerta de Aza, referee affiliated to the Referees’ Committee of Tenerife, and in May the leading role is Yolanda Parga, former national and international assistant referee and now Responsible of Female Refereeing in Madrid Referees’ Committee, among other posts. The Galician, although settled in Madrid 14 years ago, speak with our colleagues Lara Llanos and Carlos Chelle through video call.
Interviewer: Thank you, Yolanda, for being with us today. For those who don’t know you, who is Yolanda Parga?
Yolanda Parga: Well, Yolanda Parga is a woman that has dedicated more than half of her life to refereeing. I started to referee when I was 13 years old, so imagine. More than half of my life, and I enjoy football. Now I’m retired from the field, from being in the middle, but not from being in the stands, training referees and assistant referees.
I: What do you like to do in your free time?
Y: I really like sports. In fact, I’ve done a little bit of exercise first thing in the morning. Apart of sports and football, I am a Social Worker. I like the assistant work and I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, which right now I really miss all the friends part.
I: You just said you started to referee when you were 13 years old, how do you remember your beginnings in refereeing? Why do you decide to start in this world?
Y: I grew up in the refereeing world because my father and my cousin were referees, so I used to go a lot when I was young. I remember seeing my father in the field. Then, I really liked going to football matches, so between both things… It is true that I’ve never been a federated player, but I’ve always liked football. And at the age of 13 years mi father stopped refereeing, but he was at the Delegation in charge of designations, and that why I started. I think that if it wasn’t because of that, I wouldn’t have started so young, It all started because I wanted to follow my father. He always wanted to have a son that would follow his steps… It seemed like a girl couldn’t do it. So I started trying to follow him and later I loved it and here I am.
I: Did your family expect you to follow the tradition? Because, in addition, we read in an interview that you would like that your children work in refereeing, like you and their father (the also former international referee Carlos Megia Davila). Do they like this world?
Y: Look, my older son is 12 years old and he prefers paddle sports. Sports in which you don’t have to run much, only short distances. So I think he won’t go there. And the little one is six years old and he is already taking his first steps, but we don’t know yet. I wish, but we won’t force them to follow our career, they can do whatever they want. We want them to be happy. But I’d like it, of course.
I: Before, you mentioned that besides being an assistant referee, you work as a Social Worker. I know that you’ve worked in penitentiary centers. How did you manage it, first with refereeing and later with your trainer work?
Y: It was hard while I was refereeing. At a national level I didn’t have big problems, because the matches were on weekends and, normally, my work was during the week. The only thing is that I had to find time to train and prepare myself.
On an international level it was a little bit harder, because the big summer tournaments mean that you have to be out almost a month. Truth is that I’ve always been lucky, first I worked in a center to attend people with disabilities and they helped me a lot. I had to take vacations days. I had to work a lot, sometimes as a social worker and sometimes as a referee.
I: Do you think that your job as a social worker helped you in your career as a referee or vice versa?
Y: I think both. Social work carries a very important part of Psychology, and I believe that on the field it is important to have a basic psychological knowledge, mostly when you deal with players and benches or the management in the locker room. That work is important. And then on the opposite side, there are times as a social worker when you don’t have to be the good guy. You have to bring up your temper and be stricter. In that moments I think being a referee helped me. To be able to say: “No, this must be in this way”.
I: Talking about your refereeing career, how did you start as a referee in Madrid Federation? Because you are Galician, how was the departure from Galicia to get to the capital? When did it occur?
Y: I’ve lived in Madrid for 14 years. I was in the Galician Committee, and I was very happy there. In fact, I started as an international referee, I took my first steps and I had my first tournaments there. When I reached ‘Segunda Division’, I had problems with the physical exams, especially the speed test. I was very hard-up, so I asked for a leave of absence at work and I came to train with Juanjo, who was the physical trainer for the Spanish Referees’ Committee. I was training here for a month and in that month I met my husband, who was also a referee and now is retired. Love brought me to Madrid and, since then, I started living here and moved to the Madrilenian Committee. The truth is that I only have gratitude words. They have always treated me very, very well and they have supported me as one of them.
I: Last March, with the pandemic, we saw that the Madrid Federation made a charity tournament of eSports. Have you participated in any charity project created by the Federation? Or in a project where you could combine your job as a social worker and as a referee?
Y: Actually I’ve never had the opportunity, but I think about it as something very interesting. We’ve never done it, but I take notes to put it on practice.
I: I know that for example in Las Palmas they have a project where they have refereeing courses for inmates in penitentiary centers. I don’t know if you’ve thought about it or if you’ve seen it in Madrid.
Y: Yes, it’s been done. The thing is that I’m not very sure about the interns identifying me as a referee and as a social worker. At that level, it is good to have a distance. It has been done. people from the Federation came to teach the interns about refereeing. And, besides, there are people who started there and once they were out, they continued and are now in the Federation.
Seguimos con #UnaSemanaUnaFederación junto a @RFFM_oficial— Labhipermedia (@Labhipermedia) May 19, 2021
🗣 Queremos destacar su labor en el distrito de Carabanchel, ofreciendo sus instalaciones de Cotorruelo para fomentar hábitos de vida saludable y el deporte entre los más jóvenes 🏃♀️🏃
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I: How did you prepare for a match? Did you have something that you used to do before going to the field?
Y: Well, as a good Galician… I was a show. There are a lot of things that you do because you think: “Maybe I don’t do it and something goes wrong”. For example, there was one thing that I always did. When I was out to referee, I had all my hair slicked back because a hair in front seemed like it didn’t allow me to see the play, you see how silly it was. I had my ponytail and sometimes people would come and say: “Yoli, why don’t you wear your hair in a braid?”. But no. I couldn’t change it.
Then, I always started putting the boots of my right foot on, then the stocking and the garter. And when I entered the green I always had to enter with the right foot. Sometimes I almost fell because of it. And I always took notes with a gifted pen.
I: Being in the refereeing world for so long, who do you considere that deserves more recognition or someone that you admire?
Y: Someone that I admire? I think there is a lot of people, but if someone has opened a big door to female referees is Stephanie Frappart, the french girl. Besides, she is a great friend and I was lucky enough to be with her in the Female World Cup in Canada and in the Olympic Games. She is doing very very well, things are going well for her, because sometimes it’s not only your work. For the opportunity to be given to you, you also have to be lucky. I think Stephanie nowadays is one of the women who has opened more doors to female refereeing. And in big male matches.
But I could say more women. In Spain a big example right now is Guadalupe (Porras, assistant referee in ‘Primera Division’, also a friend of mine, and more. I believe that any women who has opened a door deserve big recognition.
I: How did you end up as an assistant referee? Was it something that you decided or someone put you in that role?
Y: I think I liked more being an assistant referee. The first time that I was on the field to referee it was as an assistant, and I did it horribly. But I liked it. And I believe that the assistant role has a doble responsibility because when you make a mistake, if the referee follows you, he also makes a mistake. As a referee, when you failed, you are the one who makes the decision. It’s your decision and that’s it. But I’ve always liked it, especially the offside. It is very difficult, but I love it.
I started as an assistant a long time ago, I was a main referee for four or five years, and then I decided to be an assistant. In that moment I valued that I could have a better future as an assistant. I don’t think I made a mistake. Maybe as a referee I would have been good to, but I don’t know. I’m proud of the path I chose.
I: How do you live the matches in your assistant referee position? We are more familiar with the main referee, which areas do you cover during the game? What do you do?
Y: One of our main functions is the offside, because that is our decision. More and more we need help from the referee because of interferences and more stuff, but the decision is ours. Our job is very important, because we always cover that part where the referee can’t go. Maybe in plays that happen on his back, or maybe because of a player he can´t see. The first assistant, if there is not a fourth official, has to take control of the benches too. There is always a lot of tension because sometimes there is a lot at stake. That’s something that social work helps me with, the psychology with the benches. We help the referee in every zone that is close to us.
I: You’ve mentioned the offside as one of your functions as an assistant referee. In your case, you retired before VAR, but what do you think about this system? Does it make it easier for you as assistant referees?
Y: I think it makes it easier for the refereeing team in general. Because even though it is very discussed, it is really helpful in order to not make a big mistake that decides a game. We are humans, not robots. The fact that there is someone out there who can go back and forth and that if they see a mistake, they can call you, it’s really helpful. It is like the goal system. I don’t know if you know what I’m talking about. It is this one in which you wear a watch which vibrates when the ball enters, and that’s a very important decision (she is referring to Goal-Line Technology, explained in this article). A goal can give you a World Cup. I think these systems, once they’ve been proved and studied, will always be a great help.
I: The goal or no goal decision you’ve mentioned, has it happened to you? Because it looks really hard to be aware of the offside and at the same time to see if the ball enters or not. Most of the time it’s in your responsibility to decide if it the ball has crossed the whole line.
Y: That decision is really hard to make, because this type of plays are usually long balls that go inside and then outside. And in general, you are in line with the last defender. I mean, you are not in line with the goal, stopped, because that would be easier. Usually, you are not in line with the goal, so the decision is very complicated. Imagine, you wear a watch that vibrates in when the goal is 100% correct. That’s helping you a lot. I’ve had this goal or not moment, but as far as we know we were never wrong. Maybe we have been wrong, but it was not recorded. I always say that the matches in which they don’t record you, you are the best referee. You are 100% right. But when you start watching the videos, you say: “Oh my God, what’s that? I didn’t see it on the field…”. You get better when you can watch yourself.
I: You started in professional refereeing in 1991. You said before that your first game was a disaster. Do you remember that match and what happened?
Y: I wasn’t even appointed to that match. My father was in charge of the appointments and we were in Elviña, in Coruña, and an assistant was injured, so I was there and there was no one else, so Yoli, you are in charge. It was a youth match, I don’t remember if it was national. I don’t remember the teams, because I’m a disaster. I live it all with passion, but sometimes my head does not accompany me. It went wrong because I remember this occasion in which you see the ball and think: “This goes out”. So I raised the flag before the ball came out. A player arrived and the ball did not go out. And the referee told me: “Thank you”. It’s normal, at the beginning you always have mostly precipitation errors. With experience, you become much more calm.
I: Very soon you became an international referee. Do you remember the moment they told you the news?
Y: Yes. Chema García told me, who was also an international referee. He is with us in Madrid Football Federation too. It is a pleasure to work with him and he is also a good friend. They call you and tell you that you are going to appear in the international list. Imagine. I was lucky because now I think it is more complicated to reach the international level. I worked to get there, but it was just the right moment. They said: “We need four referees and four assistants from Spain to the FIFA list”. And there was no one else. I worked, I prepared myself, I came to Madrid and I did my tests, but I had to wait for the final decision. The moment they tell you…I didn’t even dream about it. I was very happy.
I: You’ve been in every type of competitions, both national and international, such as Women’s Eurocup or Women’s World Cup in different categories. Is there any occasion or event that you remember in a special way?
Y: I think the best event that I’ve been is the final of the Women’s World Cup in Canada. I always say that the referees who officiate the finals are the best. There a lot of good referees that don’’t make it to a final but it is true that a lot need to happen in order to be there… I remember that I started to cry when they told me. Besides, after 40 days in Canada, in a moment when I had just become mother and I had left my son, the little one, at home with 5 month… With what it cost me, because it is true that I “programmed” the second child to be able to reach that World Cup, but in the end, I had a cesarean and the recovery was much slower. I worked very hard on a physical level to get there. And when you hear your name… Look, I still get goose bumps.
In addition, my husband also came to see it from Madrid, and I didn’t expect it. The match was great and I have a great memory about it. I could say others, but I think that is the best memory because all the things you need to happen to be there. But I have a lot of good memories about refereeing: matches, anecdotes… Refereeing has given me a lot.
I: You were assistant referee in two Olympic Games, London 2012 and Rio 2016. How did they tell you that you were appointed to those events and how did you live that experience?
Y: Usually, there is a World Cup one year and the next year are the Olympic Games. So, the referees that go to the World Cup go to the Olympics. It is a very small percentage, maybe 15% or 20%. It is true that the fact that I refereed the final of the 2015 World Cup helped a lot for Rio, but London was more unexpected. Imagine, being in the Olympic Games. In the moment that you hear your name is amazing. And they are very special because male and female referees coexist in the Games, both competitions and even subsequent meetings in many cases are joint. It is also much more fun, and then being able to go to the Olympic village… It is another story. You are going to referee, but you live all kinds of sports. It’s great.
I: In the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada you officiate with referees such as Melissa Borjas, Stephanie Frappart and Kateryna Monzul. What did you learn from them, how did you live to be in a team with them?
Y: Keeping the distance, this comes to be like a Big Brother. And it’s true, because they put you in Canada for 42 days with all the FIFA staff and the referees. I have many friends from refereeing and especially from Canada I brought many friends. I have learned a lot because each of us have our singularities. When you mix different countries and different continents, you can imagine. You learn a lot of things and it also shapes you a lot as a person.
I: What is more, Stephanie Frappart and Kateryna Monzul have officiated Europa League matches. Have you talked with them? Have you congratulated them? Have they told you her feelings?
Y: I have a good relationship with Kateryna Monzul, but Stephanie is my friend. In fact, she has stayed in my house and vice versa. We have a very good relationship. How they are not going to tell me her their feelings! And I write them too. Very glad, because they are conscious of the things that they are doing for female refereeing. They are so wonderful.
I: Looking about the future of Spanish female refereeing, do you think that we can reach the situation of seeing two Spanish female referees, Marta Huerta de Aza as referee and Guadalupe Porras as assistant referee, working together in the next World Cup?
Y: The fact is that, normally, for the World Cup once one ends, the next year they open the process and preselect. I do not know if it can happen in the next World Cup, but I am convinced that they are going to be in the lists of the main international tournaments: they are good referees, they work so well and I think they are the prototype that UEFA and FIFA are looking at every level. Because you do not have to be only good in the field of play, you have to be a person that interacts well, and they are the prototype. Besides, the Spanish female refereeing comes strong. They are doing it well, and not only them, who are inspirational, but all the women who come behind their backs. I would like to live this moment.
I: That is a question we were going to ask you, if you “regret” about been born maybe three or four years later in order to be living this moment now.
Y: I would love to live it, but I do not regret. Because what referees like Marisa Villa, Paloma Quintero or myself have done open up doors at the end. Maybe, nowadays I would go unnoticed, or maybe not. But in that moment, I stood out because there was less rivalry. Maybe I would stand out now, I repeat, but the experiences that I lived in my career are also very nice because you are paving the way.
I: How does a referee live with the mistake? Because refereeing is a job that is always under the spotlight.
Y: That is so important, knowing how to work with the mistake. Sometimes, you are conscious in the field that you have made a mistake, and sometimes you have to see it. Imagine the referees with VAR, in the moment that they correct them they notice that they have made a mistake. You have to overcome it, and that is a psychological work. I have made mistakes until my last game, it is usual. As I said before, we are no robots. The experience of working with the mistake makes you stronger and helps you to overcome it in the best way.
I: In 2017 you retire of refereeing but, as you said before, you stay active being part of Madrid Referees’ Committee as Responsible of Assistant Referees. Could you tell us what are your main functions in this role?
Y: I am going to correct you, because I started to work in Madrid Football Federation with the female refereeing. And then for two years I have been in charge of assistant referees. Now there is a person, Abraham (Alvarez Canton), who has been assistant referee in LaLiga Santander and he is retired since last year, so he is the main leader of the assistant referees. Although we work together, as well as with Juanqui (Juan Carlos Yuste Jimenez), in every aspect of refereeing. Now I am more in charge of female refereeing, but we all collaborate in everything.
I: As a referee instructor, how did you manage yourself during confinement? How did you adapt your work?
Y: The first weeks you are shocked, you think that it can not be happening. You react a little bit slower, it is the truth. But what we have done is a lot of online formation. I think that this that we are doing, chatting online, maybe before coronavirus we would have met somewhere. And this is something that we are going to keep doing. We have done a lot of formation and interviews online with female referees. I do not know if you have seen it, but we done some virtual meetings in our ‘Centro Virtual de Competencia del Arbitraje’. One of them was very cool, ‘Refereeing and Motherhood’. We have also done about models in refereeing with Marta Frias (international Spanish referee) and Claudia (Umpierrez, Uruguayan international referee), who is an inspiration at international level. We combine online formation with something more dynamic.
I: How do you live refereeing being a woman? How was your beginning in this world, when it was not so common to see female referees?
Y: Effectively, at the beginning it was noteworthy. Especially in Galicia, when you went to the fields near the coastline and it was like: “Really a woman is going to referee?”. But it is a thing of the past, I think that thanks God we have overcome that situation and it is not remarkable anymore. Also, I have not big issues. I started as a woman and very young, so you can imagine. However, I travelled with my bodyguard, my father. He does not allow anybody to confront his daughter.
I: As we said before, nowadays you are the Responsible of Female Refereeing in Madrid. Nowadays, how do you see female refereeing? Is it growing up?
Y: It walks together with female football. Some years ago, we said: “In Spain, we are some steps behind other countries”. But I think that Spain, at female football level, is now an example at international level. Although there are some steps to walk yet. But I think it has grown up a lot in a short time. I think the fact that ‘Primera Iberdrola’ is officiated only by women is so important. I think every committee is concerned about female refereeing and you see a growing number of women in higher categories. That is the biggest change, the fact that there is a specific person who works with them, concerned about their difficulties and needs. This is so important.
I: At Laboratorio Hipermedia we are in charge of recording ‘Tercera Division’ matches for their referees’ scouting, and we can see names as Maria Amaro, Soraya González o Irene Lumbreras. How do you see their present and future career?
Y: We have Andrada Aloman, who is in ‘Segunda B’, but then the three that we have in a higher category in Madrid are just them. They are so good, so strong. They have improved a lot, also physically because I think it was our main issue, and in inferior categories it still happens. They have to train regularly. You are a referee and a sportswoman, so you have to train. In higher categories there is a huge improvement, as well as in the technical part. The three women that you have mentioned are performing so well in ‘Tercera Division’.
I: As you have mentioned, Andrada Aloman is assistant referee in ‘Segunda B’. Have she asked you for some advice?
Y: I talk a lot with Andrada, also she replaced me in the international spot I left. And if someone looked us from behind at the beginning they can be confused because we both had a blonde ponytail. I talk a lot with Andrada because she is an example here in Madrid and sometimes she told me: “Yoli, I have refereed this play. What is your opinion?”. We talk a lot about technical aspects and I give her some advices, although it is true that she is so experience nowadays. But at the beginning it was like: “How can I do this? How can I speak with the main referee? When and how I contact her?”. She learns with me and vice versa.
I: If we ask you for defining your refereeing style in three words, which words would you choose?
Y: Commitment, perseverance and concentration. They are good words, aren’t they?
I: You mentioned before that assistant referees are close to the sideline, so near trainers and benches. How do you feel that pressure of having someone behind you listening to their protests and comments?
Y: At some moments, when the situation started to be more stressful, it helps me to keep more focus if possible. This is like learning to manage the mistakes, you have to work with people at your back. Lots of time you do not pay attention to them and then they said, for example: “Hey, do not you listen…?”, but no. You are so focus on the game, the most important part, so you omit what is happening behind you.
I: We have mentioned in the whole interview the long curriculum that you have in the world of refereeing. It is difficult to think in something that you have not done yet, but if you could travel back in time and make a wish, what it could be?
Y: To make my debut in ‘Segunda Division’. I was promoted, but I could not pass the speed test. And that was a very big disappointment. Probably I should have retired from refereeing, but I love it. That moment was so hard, so I feel gutted about it.
I: If you were forced to change football for another sport to referee, what sport could it be?
Y: Do you know the sport that I am fully focused now? Paddle. So maybe, something related to paddle. They are sports completely different, but I like it.
I: The last one, what advice would you say to those people who want to start in the world of refereeing? Something that you think that they have to know for sure.
Y: I would say them that refereeing is a wonderful world, it is very special. If I were born again, I would be a referee again, that is the truth. But you need perseverance. Without it, you can referee a match, but if you want to achieve something you need to be perseverant. Especially with the physical part, but also in the technical. And watch a lot of football, in the field or in the TV. Because you can see circumstances or situations which in a concrete moment, when you are in the field, look familiar. So watching them allows you to know how to manage the situation. I think perseverance and work are the keys.
I: Perseverance is vital, an advice that we are sure that is useful for someone who watches this interview and wants to start refereeing. Thank you., Yolanda, for collaborating for Laboratorio Hipermedia and with this campaign, #UnaSemanaUnaFederacion. We hope that everything continues working in your role inside Madrid Referees’ Committee.
Y: Thank you, guys, I hope the same for you