An athlete in elementary school, volleyball player in middle school and field hockey player in high school and university – the girl who was good at sports had to change her events in order to get an athletic scholarship. Her beginnings were humble, but now Im Eun-ju (’96, Sports Education) is a Leisure Design professor at Eulji University, the Representative Director of Gangwon Football Club and so far the only professional female referee in the world.
Her ties with football began when she was preparing for graduate school. The former hockey player decided to change her event again and joined the Beijing Asian Games Women’s football team in 1990 to establish a foothold to go to graduate school. After Im entered Ewha and started coaching the Ewha football team, her director suddenly resigned so she took over the team.
With this experience, Im became a professional referee two years later in the FIFA (Federal International de Football Association) Under 17 Football in 2001. Im considers her achievement meaningful because she broke the glass ceiling for women in the soccer field and has thereby paved the way for other aspiring female football referees. She also worked as a referee for the K League from 1999 to 2003.
While she had been working as a referee, an unforgettable moment happened that surprised the world of soccer. In the semi-final league match between Ulsan and Busan in May 1999, she flashed a red card to the former soccer player Ahn Jung-hwan, requiring him to leave the field immediately and stay out of the game. Im was simply following the rules, but many fans were offended. Some even complained about a female referee giving a Red card to a member of the national team.
Of this event, Im says she was simply following the fixed rules and the act was for the sake of the players and her love for Korea.
“Ahn was not just a professional player, but a player of the national team and he was really famous,” Im said. “When he plays in the international leagues as a member of the national team, he will have referees enforcing tight rules according to global regulations. I could not bend the rules just because he was Korean and famous.”
Im believes she should be even more strict about the rules when it comes to famous players and that this kind of experience would be an important preparation for the player.
Other than unexpected difficulties like the red card event, Im says no particular moment starks out as the most demanding since she finds every moment to be challenging.
As the Representative Director of a team, Im’s every minute and second are challenging and a turning points because the moment will decide the winnner and loser, and even the direction of one’s life.
“Even these days I feel like I am on the edge,” Im said. “Every moment of my day is a competition because I am involved in a match.”
However, Im says she is used to these kinds of harsh, desperate and urgent moments. Her outlook on life helps her deal with the situation and win the game as well.
“I always consider this second, this minute and this game as the last ones in my life and make a frantic effort,” Im said. “Who can win a person who considers that game as the last game of her life?”
As Im’s motto is “I would not have even started if I had known this was impossible,” Im wishes Ewha students to forget the gender limits.
“Make your passion be your main specification,” Im said. “Do not let people judge you by gender but by your ability. This is possible only when we break the limits of gender.”
Im says the goal will then become much bigger as people start to break into the larger world. She also advises that the preparation process should accordingly be longer and more thorough.
“Experience anything you want while you are in your 20s and 30s, even if you suffer,” Im said. “Search for opportunities now and when you are in your 40s, you will be there, selecting which opportunities to take.”