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After cancer diagnosis, Canadian match official Chenard back to work 3rd Women’s World Cup

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Carol Anne Chenard is back at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, a life moment truly worth celebrating.

The 46-year-old from Ottawa was slated to work the 2019 tournament in France, her third World Cup as a referee. But a breast cancer diagnosis kept her at home on the eve of the competition.

Instead of working the tournament, she had her first chemotherapy session the day the tournament kicked off.

Four years later, Chenard is a video assistant referee at the tournament which runs July 20 to Aug. 20 in Australia and New Zealand.

“There were a lot of unknowns,” Chenard said. “Unknowns from a career perspective but other kind of life unknowns, I guess. And so to be able to go back and participate in another World Cup … is really special.”

She says her health is stable these days.

“I’m still in treatment and there’s a lot of unknowns with cancer but I can train, I can participate. So I’m really looking forward to it,” Chenard said in an interview.

Chenard is one of five Canadian match officials at the 32-team tournament,

Marie-Soleil Beaudoin and Myriam Marcotte are among the 33 referees. Chantal Boudreau is one of 55 assistant referees while Chenard and Drew Fischer are among the 19 video match officials.

Fischer also served as a video assistant referee at last year’s men’s World Cup in Qatar.

While the video review system was also used at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, the 2023 tournament feature six women video match officials for the first time.

Despite the cancer diagnosis in May 2019, Chenard wanted to continue in the sport. Her initial goal was to return to the field with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics a goal.

She did some training while undergoing chemotherapy. But her treatment went longer than expected.

“And I just wasn’t really able to get back to a place where I would be comfortable getting back on the field for the timeline for the 2020 Olympics.”

Then COVID struck and the Tokyo Games were delayed.

But without a clear picture of her health, Chenard elected to call it quits as an on-field official in October 2020. At the time, she was just the fourth Canadian to serve 15 or more years on the FIFA list of referees and assistant referees.

‘A hope and a dream’

She remained connected to the game, taking instructor and assessor courses. And despite her retirement as a ref, she had a plan — “a hope and a dream” — to become a video assistant referee, which offered a less physically strenuous way to stay involved in soccer.

“At that point I had no idea if I would be any good,” she said with a chuckle. “It is a different skill.”

She began by training with PRO (Professional Referee Organization), which runs the referee and assistant referee program in Canadian and U.S. pro soccer.

“I wasn’t quite ready to step totally away from the field yet.” she said. “And VAR provided me the opportunity to stay not on the field but close enough to the field. The way my refereeing career ended obviously wasn’t how I envisioned it. That happens to many people. Injuries happen, that kind of thing.”

Plethora of experience

Chenard’s refereeing résumé is impressive.

In addition to the 2011 and 2015 Women’s World Cups, she also officiated at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics (handling the final), the 2017 FIFA U-17 Men’s World Cup and the 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.

In the Canadian Premier League’s inaugural 2019 season, she led an all-female crew for a Forge FC-Cavalry FC game.

Chenard has excelled in her new VAR role. She went on to work in MLS and the NWSL and, by 2022, obtained her FIFA certification.

She served as a video assistant referee at last year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in India, including the championship game.

All of the World Cup officials will be based out of Sydney, which will be Chenard’s home for the entire tournament given the video match officials all work out of a centralized location there. Other match officials will travel to their matches.

In Sydney, the match officials will be housed in a hotel with nearby training fields.

“We train every day. We have classroom sessions. We watch matches,” she said.

Chenard will not work matches involving Canada or any in its opening-round group.

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As a VAR at the tournament, Chenard has a screen showing the game live plus a screen called the Quad, because it has four pictures. The Quad feed is delayed by three seconds so if something happens, she can use it to take a quick look.

If a more extensive check is needed, she can review different angles for a more thorough analysis — while alerting the referee to pause play.

Chenard works with an operator, a specialist who has access to all the cameras available and can pull up the ones needed on Chenard’s Quad. Chenard can get then a full look at the angle in question by tapping the appropriate screen.

“So I’m not looking at 50 different TVs. It all comes into my Quad,” she said.

If she then believes there has been a clear and obvious error, she will talk directly to the referee to recommend an on-field review. She and the operator then work to show the ref the necessary angles.

“The goal is to minimize the downtime but also make the correct decision,” Chenard explained. “So you have to be able to analyze things and not get struck in what we call the tunnel, which is looking at things over and over and over and over again and taking too long to make a decision.”

At the World Cup, Chenard will also be working with an assistant VAR who will help her as well as monitor live play when she is doing a check. There will also be an offside VAR, an assistant referee with expertise in offside decisions. At the World Cup, they will have their own operator so they can look at offside while Chenard and her team look at other plays as needed.

4 categories of video review

Chenard says video match officials essentially check everything, so on-field officials don’t routinely have to ask for a review. But there is plenty of communication with referees explaining their decision, passing on if they are not sure of what they saw or offering up what players say happened.

Case of mistaken identity is one of the four categories of video review, along with goal/no goal, penalty/no penalty and red cards.

The referee has the final decision, usually after checking the pitchside monitor if the VAR believes there is a clear and obvious error and recommends a review. The VAR will explain their take while the ref sees the replay.

Chenard enjoys her role as a VAR. But she says it comes with plenty of pressure.

“Everybody expects the VAR to get it right all of the time. Not to say they don’t expect the referees to [get it right] but we all know that as a referee, there were times we got things right and wrong.”

Chenard calls it “a great challenge.” And she says she hopes her years of experience on the field can help the on-field officials.

A women's world cup soccer official holds up a yellow card with her right hand in front of a player in a stadium filled with fans.
Carol Anne Chenard shows the yellow card to Laura Georges of France during the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. (Dennis Grombkowski/Bongarts/Getty Images)

In Major League Soccer, Chenard works only with an assistant VAR and an operator. The MLS video match officials have worked out of Atlanta for the last two years, making for some busy weekends for Chenard, whose day job is as director in the Office of Controlled Substances at Health Canada.

Typically she flies out early Saturday to work a game that night, returning to Ottawa early the next day.

In February, Chenard went to Auckland, New Zealand, to work the final play-in tournament for the World Cup.

Given such obligations, she uses her vacation time to make it work but also gets help from her superiors and a federal government program that supports international athletes and officials.

“I’m surrounded by a really great team in my office who support me and who will be covering for me when I’m gone,” said Chenard, who has a bachelor’s degree and PhD from McGill in microbiology and immunology and speaks French and Spanish.

Former short-track speedskater

A former international short-track speedskater from 1998 to 2002, Chenard won six World Cup medals and once co-owned a world record in the 3,000 metres.

And despite her cancer diagnosis in 2019, she made it to the World Cup final in France as a spectator.

“I flew over after my second chemo session. My oncologist would say against medical advice. But I told him it wasn’t against medical advice because I didn’t ask his advice,” she said with a laugh.



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