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MBABANE – World soccer governing body FIFA has paid a glowing tribute to Eswatini top referee Letticia Viana.

This was through an article titled, ‘Letticia Viana: Blowing whistles beyond Eswatini borders’, which has been published on the official FIFA website. Viana has been commended for setting milestones as a FIFA-accredited referee. The 37-year-old recently became the first Eswatini referee to officiate in the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) section of FIFA Under-17s Women’s World Cup in India recently.  Viana is the first Eswatini female to become a FIFA-accredited referee in 2015.  She has also officiated in Women’s Africa Cup of Nations and CAF Women Champions League matches.

“When Letticia Viana started her refereeing career in 2005, she probably couldn’t fathom what was in store for her in the future. The then 20-year-old referee of Eswatini probably just wanted to break the glass ceiling in a field that was dominated by men in Africa. “She was, perhaps, aware of the fear of failure, and that a small misstep could snowball into something calamitous. But, Viana took the challenge head-on and emerged as a winner. ‘‘Recently, she achieved the rare feat of becoming the first Eswatini woman referee to officiate in the VAR section of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in India (2022). And it was only a small, albeit major, part of her many achievements,” reads the article in part.

The article further went on to detail that the road to success wasn’t easy though. It took hard work, dedication and Viana’s undying passion for the game to leave an impact. Two years after Viana started refereeing, she was promoted to the Premier League of  Eswatini (PLE) in 2007 and became the first woman in the history of  Eswatini football to achieve such an honour. “Soon, the country’s football administrators started taking note of Viana’s physical fitness and mental fortitude and began putting her in charge of the big games. Her work ethic continued to impress the powers that be as she advanced through the ranks quickly. Eventually, in 2015, her efforts bore fruit when her talent was recognised by the world’s leading football body and she became a FIFA-accredited referee. It was a key milestone in her career, as she became the first Swazi (liSwati) female referee in history to have a FIFA badge,” further highlighted the article.

With her status as a referee significantly improved, Viana was called to oversee in major games. One of her major career highlights was when she was selected to officiate in the 2016 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon. Her first assignment in the tournament was a match between Nigeria and Kenya. The 37-year-old later built on her success by completing the CAF Elite A women refereeing course and officiating at the CAF Women Champions League in Cairo, Egypt, in 2021. A few topics for this course included the use of VAR effectively and a physical fitness test and learning these helped Viana make the cut for the Under-17 Women’s World Cup in India this year.

“This was a practical-oriented course and I got an opportunity to officiate matches while working with VAR, which was a good experience,” Viana was quoted saying. Viana’s rise as a referee is said to be an inspiring story. It has also helped popularise the game in Eswatini as the EFA has organised several refereeing courses that included the likes of FIFA-accredited referees Thulani Sibandze, Thembinkosi Magagula and Buyisile Mkhaliphi, among others. EFA president Peter Simelane highlighted the transformation of refereeing in the country.

“Of a significant highlight is the growth of our refereeing, where we have witnessed leading referee, Letticia Viana, officiating at the third consecutive Women Africa Cup of Nations. She has since got a historic appointment to officiate in the VAR section of the FIFA U-17 Women World Cup,” Simelane was quoted by the EFA website. In between refereeing, Viana is also a qualified sports development officer after completing an advanced diploma course in sport management and recreation. Looking back at her journey, Viana feels that things wouldn’t have been possible without the support of EFA and others. “I love Eswatini because it is peaceful, a very respectful nation that provides equal opportunities for everyone regardless of your race, gender and religion,” she said.

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