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Portugese referee is on a mission to use soccer to bring cultures together

07/13/2015, 1:30pm CDT
By Jacob Sevening

While this year’s tournament boasts teams from 16 different countries, it also has referees from nine different nations that didn’t bring teams to Schwan’s USA CUP. One of those referees is Jose Alberto Fernandes, the tournament’s lone referee from Portugal. 

But the Lisbon native is focused on bringing much more than just his refereeing skills to USA CUP. During his 10 days in the United States he’s hoping for expand his network of international soccer connections in the hope of bringing the first ever Portuguese teams to USA CUP as early as next year. 

“I enjoy these tournaments because they bring together different cultures to have a different kind of experience. Different teams, different players, different cultures,” Fernandes says. “That’s the point. Of course, I’m a referee, I have to follow the rules and that’s also very important, but I usually don’t care who is winning or losing. The important thing is kids having fun and they promote fair play, sporting behavior and goodwill toward each other.”

In fact, Fernandes is so committed to his mission of using soccer to bring cultures together that he recently joined forces with other international Portuguese referees to create a program that gives small youth clubs in Portugal the opportunity to travel abroad to soccer tournaments. 

“Other international referees and I, we have built this program, it has been approved by the government, and we spreading out and we are working together … and I would like to help everyone to build this project,” Fernandes says. And although this program began just seven months ago, it has already helped send teams around the world. “This year, I took three teams to the United World Games in Austria. I took two teams to Dubai, also. I think another one is going to Sweden. So next year my plan is to bring two or three teams to USA CUP.”

For the last eight years, Fernandes has been traveling the globe refereeing in countless soccer and futsal tournaments and is making his first trip to the United States to referee USA CUP. 

“It’s nice for players and coaches to have referees of different nationalities so they can see that there are different ways and different styles of refereeing. It teaches everyone a different perspective of the game,” Fernandes says. “I know everyone has a different way of refereeing. No one is wrong. There are only different cultures, and I respect that.”

Even after his first few days at USA CUP, Fernandes has already been able to experience the different soccer cultures present at the tournament and said that has reinforced his commitment to creating a positive experience for teams he works with rather than simply enforcing laws and managing a match. 

“For me, the most important thing is that the players were happy. They had fun playing the match, and I was able to help them out and have a different experience. They learn different things than they would if they had a local referee for that game,” Fernandes says. 

Fernandes also says that creating a positive soccer experience inspired him to start his Portuguese program that helps send teams to foreign tournaments. After decades of teams playing the same tournaments around Europe, he says, the experience has stagnated for some teams. By exposing young children to different cultures through soccer, Fernandes says we can create a better global community. 

“I think there was a lack of formation with younger kids. As seniors, we cannot change. People have already formed their opinions and they will not change their minds,” Fernandes says. “But we can change small kids. We can make a difference in their lives through soccer.”

And even after eight days spent at USA CUP and traveling the United States for the first time, Fernandes’ work will start all over again, bringing another group of teams to a new country. 

“July 28, I’ll be in Wales for the Welsh Super Cup with 10 Portuguese referees for the first time,” Fernandes says. 

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