Shillong, May 22: Ri-iohlang Dhar (fourth right among the officials in yellow) is back home after having officiated at the 2024 AFC U-17 Women’s Asian Cup in Bali, Indonesia. 

She was the only Indian official out of a total of 22 referees and assistant referees for the 6th to 19th May tournament.

Ri-iohlang is a FIFA level assistant referee, which has enabled her to travel to various countries in Asia over the years.

There were eight countries in the tournament – hosts Indonesia, 2019 runners-up Japan, North Korea, China, South Korea, Thailand, Australia and the Philippines. North Korea became champions for the fourth time after defeating Japan 1-0 in the final. The two finalists plus third-placed South Korea qualified for the U-17 Women’s World Cup later this year.

Ri-iohlang officiated in that third place playoff, which was a high pressure game for both sides as it would determine the last available U-17 World Cup qualifier spot.

“I’m happy because I got the opportunity to officiate the third place match, which was very important because both teams were fighting to go through to the U-17 World Cup this year, meaning that there was more pressure than the final,” Ri-iohlang told TSR today.

The serving policewoman first qualified as a FIFA assistant ref in 2018 but learning on the job doesn’t stop.

“Being in this position, I’m still learning and will continue to learn because I won’t face the same situation in every match – one is different to the other,” she said, adding that she received good feedback from the Referee Assessor on her performance in the bronze medal match as well as the semifinal she officiated in.

Being an assistant referee isn’t simply about following the action on the pitch but also having an understanding of the tactics employed by the teams. But these change from match to match, though a meeting for officials on team tactics before the semis and feedback did help keep the referees in control, Ri-iohlang said, especially over problem players.

“Also, just being experienced doesn’t mean I’m perfect. I can’t be because I’m still a human being and for sure there will be mistakes but I take it as a learning process and try not to make the same mistakes in the next match,” she added.

Although she has had plenty of support from family, friends and well-wishers among the general public and football community, there have been some who she said have been trying to pull her down.

“But even though I had to carry this heavy weight, I left it in India before reaching Bali because I didn’t want it to affect me in the matches,” Ri-ioh said. “And to be able to do this I have to be mentally strong to forget it because it affected me a lot when I was there.”

Ri-ioh got back home yesterday but she’s off again for another assignment, this time in Goa for the second division of the Indian Women’s League (IWL 2).

(All photos contributed by Ri-iohlang Dhar)

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