August 6-21, 2022
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by: Bernie Puchalski, BP Sports Niagara

‘Looking for the next Carly’: How Shaw-MacLaren is blazing a path for Canadian soccer officials

Carly Shaw-MacLaren’s recent vacation was anything but one.

The Sport and Venues Coordinator for the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games was in the Dominican Republic officiating the 2022 CONCACAF Women’s U-20 Soccer Championship.

“There is a short period of time we have between sessions and there are 12-14 hour days,” the 25-year-old native of Prince George, B.C., said. “It is definitely not a vacation.”

It was her first international assignment since Soccer Canada announced her as one of the 17 officials named to the FIFA list of officials for 2022 assignments.

“She is one of those diamonds in the rough. She is 25 years old and she became a FIFA referee at the very first opportunity from an age standpoint. You can’t be any younger than 25,” said Isaac Raymond, the director of refereeing for Canada Soccer.

“She is multi-talented and has a high upside to her.”

Shaw-MacLaren grew up playing basketball and soccer in high school and started officiating soccer when she was 12. 

“I was honestly just doing it for the money and from there I kept on working. I was able to go to a few provincial championships in B.C. where they paid for me to travel,” she said. “I gained exposure from there and then I got to go to some national competitions in B.C. as early as 2013; the CCAAs (Canadian Colleges Athletic Association championships) as well as the U16 nationals which led me to do other events.”

An important milestone for her was being an official at the 2017 Canada Summer Games. She became a national official in 2020 and officiated her first professional men’s game that same year in the Canadian Premier League (CPL) Island Games in P.E.I.

Last year, she officiated a full slate of CPL games.

Shaw-MacLaren, who attended the CONCACAF Program of Referee Excellence in 2018, broke barriers as a soccer official in her home province. She became the first female to officiate the Jackson Cup final — the Vancouver Island Soccer League championship trophy for men.

“It was kind of hard to describe what it felt like. Obviously, I just wanted to be treated like the male referees and that is not always the case. It was pretty exciting and hopefully it will open more doors,” she said. “The league itself was very supportive of me by making sure I had the right games and giving me the opportunities that I earned. It’s not like I was given them because I was a female.”

Shaw-MacLaren admitted she had to develop a thick skin when she first started officiating.

“The youth level is really hard. There is a lot of abuse in youth soccer, I find the professional game is much more open and most of my worst experiences were when I was 14 or 15 years old. It is quite hard to go to youth games now and see what happens there to referees.”

She got through those early days by sticking to the task at hand.

“I had a lot of good mentors and support, like BC Soccer and Canada Soccer. It was sort of like a light at the end of a tunnel when I was given opportunities for development at a very young age. Being recognized for the hard work I was doing made it easier when there were tougher days.”

She loves the challenge of officiating.

“Every game is different and is always evolving. It’s learning new things and the people around it are really great. Other referees are some of my best friends now and no one really understands being a referee unless you are a referee. It is fun being in competition with people as well. It is an interesting dynamic and it is similar to being in a team sport.”

Her officiating skills continue to evolve even through the pandemic.

“For me, it is getting more experience and managing the men’s game specifically and the skill set that that takes. And it is adapting and doing more women’s games at the national level,” she said. “Having a stronger, more mature personality comes with age as well.”

There are a number of attributes that go into making a good soccer official.

“Fitness is a big thing. You have to pass fitness tests and be fit for the games. You need to be empathetic, good under pressure, able to handle conflict and be really quick at decision making.”

She’s hoping her skills will continue to develop and allow her to take her officiating to the highest level.

“I would love to go to the World Cup and referee the World Cup final but that is a few years away at the very least. I have a lot of work to do to get there.”

The CPL starts up in early April and she will be officiating games most weekends.

“Every chance I get with work will be filled with reffing.”

With the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games, Shaw-MacLaren is overseeing eight or nine sports, working with national sports organizations and the volunteer sports leads. She was an intern for the Games in 2019 and started her job in May 2021.

She has a long history of involvement with the Canada Games.

“Prince George hosted the 2015 Canada Winter Games and that was my first connection to the Games. I was a volunteer and seeing how the event impacted my community at the time is similar to Niagara.”

Canada Games 2015 snowboard cross participant Meryeta O’Dine of Prince George recently won two bronze medals at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

“That is a prime example of the legacy it leaves behind from the sports side and obviously there was the infrastructure and new facilities that were built as well,” Shaw-MacLaren said.

She can’t wait for the Games to begin.

Raymond will be involved with officiating soccer at the Games. He is working with the provinces to identify their officials and he will be spending a lot of time at the tournament. Officials will come from across Canada and there will be 18 referees for both the men’s and women’s tournaments, plus support staff.

“Carly had a great opportunity at the Canada Summer Games to showcase her talents at a higher level and at the national level,” Raymond said. “We are looking for the next Carly.”

This report was filed by BP Sports Niagara, which is owned and operated by Bernie Puchalski and Bill Potrecz.

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