The country’s best-performing match officials have had their efforts over the past year recognised by receiving accolades in the New Zealand Football Referee of the Year Awards.
The annual awards serve to highlight the achievements of the finest Kiwi whistle-blowers, several of whom have had a significant impact on the world stage.
There were five categories on offer in the 2016 edition of the awards and the top male gong has been taken out by Matt Conger, who was named as Men’s Referee of the Year. The Men’s Assistant Referee of the Year has gone to Simon Lount while Chris Sinclair was named Futsal Referee of the Year.
In the female game, Anna-Marie Keighley was singled out as Women’s Referee of the Year while Sarah Jones picked up Women’s Assistant Referee of the Year.
New Zealand Football Referee Development Manager Ken Wallace says all the award recipients are fully deserving of their recognition after another year of refereeing excellence at both domestic and international level.
“2016 was an exceptional year for our referees on the global stage and these individuals are highly regarded all over the world,” he says.
“We were represented by four officials at the Olympic Games in Rio, all of whom are among the award recipients, while Chris Sinclair also became only the second ever New Zealander to officiate at the FIFA Futsal World Cup,” he adds.
“These international appointments are a testament to the high standard of match official being produced in this country and it’s great to be able to recognise the achievements of our elite referees, who have worked hard to get to where they are and are ideal role models for those looking to follow in their footsteps.”
Conger took out the men’s award after a busy year which included refereeing games at a variety of levels – locally within the Central Football Federation, regionally in the Central League and nationally in the Stirling Sports Premiership. As well as appearing at the Rio Olympic Games, he also controlled matches at the OFC Nations Cup in Papua New Guinea and in the Hyundai A-League.
“He has maintained his standards and given time to help less experienced officials in Palmerston North, all the while undertaking a heavy training load and combining this with work and a young family,” Wallace says.
Auckland-based Lount has shared in Conger’s experiences as an assistant referee in the same trio and Wallace says he has continued to set and maintain high standards while balancing his football commitments with a demanding job that involves much overseas travel.
Keighley also has a job that requires a lot of focus away from the field but still manages to take a leadership role supporting many female referees in football and other sports. She is regarded as being among the top women referees in the world and, in addition to her exploits in Rio, Keighley’s performances at OFC youth tournaments, in the Lotto NRFL and Stirling Sports Premiership have underlined her status as one of the leading match officials in the country, male or female.
Jones joined Keighley at the Olympics as part of her trio and also made history last year in becoming the first female Kiwi assistant referee to feature in the A-League. She is one of just three women operating in that competition and has also performed at a consistently high level in the Stirling Sports Premiership. Outside of her own career, she assists younger referees in the football academy being run by Hamilton Boys High School.
In the small-sided game, Sinclair achieved his four-year goal of being selected for the 2016 FIFA Futsal World Cup in Colombia and was involved in nine matches, including the final between Russia and Argentina. He is now targeting a further appearance at the next event in 2020 and his build-up programme will involve officiating in the local and national leagues while passing on his World Cup knowledge to his colleagues.
New Zealand Football Referee of the Year Awards 2016
Men’s Referee of the Year: Matt Conger
Men’s Assistant Referee of the Year: Simon Lount
Women’s Referee of the Year: Anna-Marie Keighley
Women’s Assistant Referee of the Year: Sarah Jones
Futsal Referee of the Year: Chris Sinclair