As the first female referee accredited by FIFA in 1994, Quebecer Sonia Denoncourt is a legend in her community. However, she would never have placed herself on an equal footing with Pelé, whom she had the chance to meet several times during her career.
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Saddened by the death of the greatest soccer player in history, the Sherbrooke resident generously agreed to share a few anecdotes from the time she rubbed shoulders with the Brazilian in Switzerland. According to her, the idol of a people must also lead by example outside the field.
“I met him more during the 10 years I spent at FIFA as director of refereeing. He was on a "fair play" committee at FIFA, and also in other committees and other meetings. He participated in particular in the nominees for the Ballon d'Or", she mentioned Thursday in an interview with the QMI Agency.
“He was very approachable, very human. He didn't disparage anyone around him. He took the time to sign autographs, take pictures with people, shake hands and chat about football in general. For me, he was a great person and a childhood idol,” added Denoncourt, who hung his whistle in 2004.
Like Pelé, the former official consistently proved she was superior not in size, but in talent. The Brazilian pointed it out to him a few times during their exchanges.
“I'm a small woman, but I was getting very tall on the pitch. We often joked about that. In the small jars the best ointments, they said, ”she slipped.
Few players have transcended their sport as the star of the “Seleçao”. Soccer greats and pundits like to say that every move, every fake you see today, Pelé has done before.
“In terms of technical and physical skills, he was incredible. He had control of the ball and all his gestures. He could dribble through multiple defenders to get to the goal. He was almost alone on the ground, described Sonia Denoncourt. He stood out like that, and from there, he became everyone's idol."
“Even people who have not been involved in football, they know where number 10 comes from, that of our king of football from Brazil.”
The Quebecer believes that Pelé was aware of his own exploits, although she never presented herself to him as the referee who paved the way for women. Her reputation preceded her.
“One of my big professional games was in Brazil in 1997 [in Sao Paulo]. This is where I became the first woman to referee a professional match in Brazil. That also marked him. I'm sure he was aware, "said Denoncourt, who is wholeheartedly with the family of the man who died Thursday in his native country, at the age of 82.
“Five or six years ago, I met his daughter who works in New York in a sports organization. It made me feel a bit funny. Without wanting to say that it closes the loop, to know the daughter of Pelé was a beautiful event, ”she said.