Eyes on the goal
Marie-Soleil Beaudoin. Photo: Soccer Canada
Halifax soccer referee Marie-Soleil Beaudoin climbs to the top of her sport and is short-listed for the World Cup
arie-Soleil Beaudoin began her soccer journey as a five-year-old in Quebec City, when her parents signed her up for the sport.
Soccer became a family sport for the Beaudoins. Her parents coached her and her two younger sisters. When Beaudoin got older, she began coaching them. During summer, soccer was what the Beaudoin family’s entire life.
After 15 years of playing, she moved to the other side of the whistle, becoming an on-field official, as did her sisters. There were times that all the Beaudoin girls officiated together in local contests.
While it began as a way to help her pay for her bachelor of science degree from McGill University and a masters and PhD from Guelph, and became a lifelong passion. “It was a way to stay involved in a sport I love,” Beaudoin recalls. ” I love being outdoors and active. Refereeing provided me that opportunity.”
Refereeing is a challenge that never ends. Her curiosity about the next challenge kept her focused, guessing what would happen next with only having a few seconds to make the right decision. She was also drawn to the officiating community, a tight-knit group with a common passion.
As she developed as a referee, Beaudoin began attracting attention as a standout, climbing the sport’s ladder. Now, she is on the verge of accomplishing another impressive feat. She is short-listed as one of 150 candidates to officiate in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
If successful, this will be her second consecutive World Cup. In 2019, Beaudoin represented the country at the tournament in France. It almost didn’t happen, as Beaudoin gave birth to her first child, a son, in the middle of the selection process. She realized if she wanted to participate in the 2019 tournament, she had to get on the field immediately to prove she deserved the spot.
She made one of the most gut-wrenching decisions of her life, leaving her infant son at home with her partner Scott and going to Uruguay for assessments, a fitness test, and officiate at the 2018 under-17 Women’s World Cup, where her performance would determine if she would make the cut for the bigger tournament.
“Just getting my name on that preliminary list was a huge accomplishment,” Beaudoin says. “That was the hardest plane ride I ever boarded, but it worked out well. The Under-17 Women’s World Cup went extremely well for me.”
Beaudoin and her two assistants from Jamaica were picked to officiate the final between Mexico and Spain. After the final, FIFA released the names of the 75 officials that would go to France for the Women’s World Cup. Beaudoin learned she was on the list while waiting to board her flight home from Toronto.
“It’s a dream for players to get that far in the tournament; it’s also the dream of referees,” she says. “It’s the pinnacle of our sport, so it’s humbling to think of all the work that went into this selection, humbling to think of all the support—having a son at home requires my partner to take on an additional role when I’m away.”
When she arrived for the 2019 World Cup, Beaudoin was guaranteed only one game to officiate in France. However, her performance resulted in her refereeing four games and officiating one other game, including a semi-final. But the one game that stands out strongest was a round of 16 match between host team France and Brazil.
“The reason why it stood out is that you are refereeing the home team, so you know the stadium is going to be packed, you walk out of the tunnel and then the national anthem,” Beaudoin recalls. “You’ll have tens of thousands of people screaming La Marseillaise [the French national anthem] at the top of their lungs. You are refereeing this game with such an emblematic team such as Brazil [and] it’s pretty special to referee the home team of a World Cup.”
Beaudoin describes her officiating style as fair, impartial, and logical, which she credits to her science background. But she also sees an “artsy” element to the job.
“It’s just logical for me as a scientist to be consistent with my decisions as much as possible,” she says. “You have to communicate with players in a way that is going to make sense to them. Sometimes you need to empathize with them when they get fouled and understand where their frustration is coming from, to try to bring the 90 minutes to a smooth as a possible finish.”
Becoming a top official is a hard journey. It starts with district officiating and continues to regional, provincial, national, and international levels, in which the reward is a FIFA badge. During these stages, officials are tested on the game’s laws, rules, and regulations.
Additionally, there are fitness tests and performance evaluations. For Beaudoin, that meant having an assessor in the stands as she worked during Hfx Wanderers FC games and international matches.
Beaudoin says many people inspired her, including Sonia Denoncourt, who paved the way through officiating at the FIFA level and men’s professional leagues, and Carol Anne Chenard, who represented Canada at three World Cups.
“The referee community is very supportive,” she explains. “There’s very much a culture of paying it forward. Someone helps you, and then you help somebody else out and so forth. Canada has a tradition of training and forming really strong women’s officials… They’ve opened the doors for me and the next generation. Because I am a Canadian referee, when I go internationally, I follow a positive trend.”
As a woman in a male-dominated sport, Beaudoin considers herself lucky that she hasn’t been subjected to many bad experiences in her career. When she’s working men’s games, she sees a bit of surprise from players and fans, but nothing worse.
But she knows her colleagues aren’t all so lucky.
“We talk a lot about some of the strong women officials preceding me,” she says. ” In Canada and Nova Scotia, officials drop off after a couple of years in the business, and often it’s because of negative experiences they’ve had on the soccer field… Some of the parts are harder because I am a woman; there are also some opportunities I got that some of my male colleagues didn’t get because there’s less of us, which is just a numbers game.”
She’s also a mother and a senior instructor of physiology and biophysics at Dalhousie University.
“I love being an instructor,” she says. “It doesn’t feel like a job to me when I have to go teach. It’s the same thing for officiating… My background is in nutrition, exercise, and metabolism. I teach courses on how physical activity can help prevent and treat chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression, and so on. Even if you took the refereeing totally out of the equation, I would be someone who would be very physically active.”
She raves about the importance of the support she gets from her partner Scott and her Dal colleagues. “There have been a lot of people behind the scenes that allow me to do what I do,” she says. “The question is always ‘how much time do you need? When do you need to be out?’ That support makes it a lot easier on a day-to-day basis… [Scott is] the one that can help me come and learn from my mistakes and move through the harder times.”
Also important is the mental discipline and technical preparation to stay decisive and composed in the heat of a game.
“When we go to the Women’s World Cup and get appointed to a game, we have a meeting with a technical coach who is going to walk us through what the system of play is, what are the problem players, what are they likely to do on free and corner kicks, how they attack, and how they defend,” she says. “If we expect the ball to go left, or expect this player to make this type of foul, then when it happens, it’s like we see it in slow motion.”
Beaudoin knows it won’t be easy to punch her ticket within FIFA’s three-year officiating window candidates must go through to gain a spot for the 2023 World Cup. COVID-19 threw the sports world into turmoil.
With many events cancelled, she’s had fewer opportunities to showcase what she can do on the soccer field. She continues to train but admits it’s hard to keep motivation high with no idea when she’ll be working again.
She’s eagerly awaiting word on whether the (postponed from 2020) Tokyo Summer Olympics will proceed this year. If they do, she may be selected to officiate, which means she’s also wondering if it will be safe to travel at all.
Soccer Nova Scotia referee development officer Carman King believes Beaudoin has a great chance to crack the officiating roster for the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
“She is one of the top officials, if not the top official in Canada,” he says. “She has worked in many tournaments in big leagues and the senior’s Women’s World Cup… She’s a known quantity within FIFA. She has worked many of the top events, including qualifying matches for the Olympics and World Cup matches. She’s hugely experienced.”
Meanwhile, Beaudoin will keep awaiting news, teaching, training, and savouring family time.
“If people follow my career and see me in 2023 in Australia, I hope it represents the hard work that went into achieving a goal,” she says. “I wanted soccer and still want to be a great official, but I wasn’t ready to give up motherhood for that. It turned out well for me because I was able to do both… I needed to be the best mother that I can be, but I still wanted to live my life and still want to do this.”
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.