LIMA (PER) – Swimming officials are a familiar sight to anyone attending a FINA swimming championship.  In a signifying and significant development for the sport, only women helmed these leadership positions on the pool deck in Lima – a first at a FINA swimming competition.

The team of four women working together for six of the twelve sessions included starters Geraldine “Gerry” Metcalf of Great Britain, Janet Llerena Rodriguez of Peru, and referees Margret Heyliger of Bermuda and Louise Leblanc of Canada. At last summer’s Olympic Games, Leblanc was also one of the four referees in Tokyo.

Image Source: Photo Credit: FINA

With Heyliger, Llerena Rodriguez and Heylinger members of the FINA Technical Swimming Committee, they held additional responsibilities for the conduct of competition in Lima. 

At the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, recently retired FINA Technical Swimming Committee chair Carol Zaleski served as the first female deck referee in Olympic swimming.

Swimming officials are nominated by more than 200 national federations throughout the world and chosen for each event. As the host nation, Peru was invited to nominate certified swimming officials and many dedicated women were on the pool deck for all of the swimming sessions. Swimming officials across all countries have years of experience and are extremely dedicated to ensuring that the competition is fair to all athletes and is run in an efficient manner following FINA rules.

FINA’s recently-appointed FINA Technical Swimming Committee chair Craig Hunter calls sporting developments like this a “really big deal.”

“Like many, we have seen photographs of swimming events held in our storied past.  There was a time when swimming officials were gentlemen in blazers and flannels standing at the end of a pool with their straw boaters and cigars,” Hunter said. “But as a sport, we have moved enormously, and this week we took an even bigger step.  It’s something that I think is a real big deal.

“It's great to be able to demonstrate that women have a role to play in all sorts of aspects in our aquatic world,” Hunter added. “FINA is composed of 209 nations and in some of those nations women are not necessarily as well as integrated.”

Image Source: Raul Sifuentes/Getty Images

When asked about the impact of these assignments, Hunter said: “This can be a really strong and powerful message for some of these women who aspire to serve in these roles within our sport and in their own nations. When we announced the appointments early in the week, to great acclamation, virtually all of the women who are here representing their own national federation, not just the starters and referees, asked how this historic moment might be communicated.

“Upon their return to their home country, each woman hopes to be able to use this example in a way that will inspire other women. This can be inspirational for all women around the world. I think in this respect FINA is definitely leading the way in how we integrate these women who have the right skills to be able lead teams of swimming officials."

Jay Thomas, Honorary Secretary of the FINA Technical Swimming Committee, noted that there were 25 female swimming officials at the eighth edition of the FINA World Junior Swimming Championships, meaning women comprised 61 percent of all event officials.  

Image Source: Photo Credit: FINA

In Their Own Voices | What the women starts and referees had to say about working in their leading roles in Lima

Geraldine Metcalf (Starter) – Great Britain   

“It’s been an honour to attend the FINA Junior World Swimming Championships this past week.  It was an even greater privilege to be part of the all-women senior officiating team in Lima, Peru. Whilst this is not uncommon for women in Great Britain to be part of the senior team, I realise that this does not occur everywhere across the world. I am delighted to see that FINA is working hard at something as important as this.”

Margret Heyliger (Referee and FINA Technical Swimming Committee member) – Bermuda  

“I was very surprised that I was selected to be a referee for the FINA World Junior Swimming Championships.  I feel even more honored to be a part of the first all-women referees and starters team, a historic moment for FINA. 

“The Videna Aquatic Center has been a fabulous venue, especially for the athletes. The great team of officials and volunteers has helped make this a valued learning experience for me and also for the many women who were on the pool deck this week in Lima.   I hope this is the first of many opportunities to referee at FINA events in the future and maybe even at the Olympics.”  

Louise Leblanc (Referee and FINA Technical Swimming Committee member) – Canada  

“It's such an honour and also a privilege to be invited to officiate at the FINA World Junior Swimming Championships in Lima, Peru.  I am very proud to have been part of this historic all-women officiating team of four women who served as referees and starters for a major FINA event.  This championship required a great number of officials and we were fortunate to have led a team of very qualified officials from many nations across the world. 

“FINA has now shown the world how important it can be to empower an all-women officiating team;  it surely sends a powerful message.  I would like to thank FINA for giving each of us this opportunity.  I am confident this will not be the last time we see extraordinary women assuming significant officiating responsibilities at FINA events.”

Janet Llerena Rodriguez (Starter) – Peru

This is the first world championship that I have participated in as a FINA Starter.  It is a very rich experience and I am pleased to work with these women.   We don't have many high-level events in Peru so this is a very important and also rare opportunity. We also hope that more events like this will come to Peru.  

Image Source: Raul Sifuentes/Getty Images