Women’s AFL development throughout Asia has been one of the great stories of the game’s development throughout the region in 2018-2019. One of the most unique and inspiring stories to come out is that of Cambodian Apsara’s player and more recently umpire, Sophoan Peou who has managed to get herself to China for the Shanghai Cup via some great support on the Plumfund Platform. She’ll now be there furthering her umpiring experience in Shanghai AND seeing her first ever professional live AFL game between the Port Power and St Kilda Saints. AFL-Asia.com caught up with Sophoan to get some more insights on her story thus far…

Tell us Sophoan how did you become interested in the umpiring side AFL?

I have been involved in refereeing rugby union for nine years and have really enjoyed it. The Cambodian Eagles Club needed regular umpires and I also noticed that women are under-represented in this area, particularly for the AFL Asia competition. I saw this as an opportunity to learn and build the capacity of umpiring, particularly in Cambodia. I was also motivated by Matt Gale and members of our club, who were encouraging me to improve my skills in AFL.

How many games have you umpired so far?

Less than 10 games. Asian Champs in Kuala Lumpur was the biggest competition I have umpired, and since then I have helped to umpire intraclub and international matches in Cambodia.

Sophoan umpiring Cambodian Eagles vs Singapore Wombats

Sophoan gaining more experience at a recent Eagles home game against the Singapore Wombats.

What have been some of the challenges in getting started with your umpiring aspirations?

There are not many opportunities for training and capacity building for umpires in Asia. Because of this I have had to learn mostly from practical experience while umpiring games without a shadow umpire to assist. This has led to some tough learning experiences, getting a lot of backchat from players. It can also be expensive to attend competitions, with limited financial support from the club or AFL Asia.

Have you ever seen an AFL game live in Australia or China?

I have never seen an AFL game live but when I went to visit Australia 7 years ago I got the opportunity to see one of the AFL grounds there.

Tell us about the Shanghai Cup. How did you come up with the motivation to go and organize the crowdfunding campaign and what does it mean to you that you will be there on the 1st of June (and 2nd for the Port vs St Kilda game)?

I was excited about the Shanghai Cup because of the information that Matt was sharing with everyone via email. I realized it would be an amazing opportunity to improve my umpiring skills, but I did not have the financial capacity to support my trip there. One of my friends suggested I should set up a crowdfunding campaign as she thought there would be several of my friends willing to support. It means a lot to me that so many people got behind me so that I can participate as an umpire in the Shanghai Cup. I am particularly excited to see the Port vs St Kilda match as I have never seen a professional AFL game live before!

What are your longer term ambitions with umpiring AFL?

I have learnt a lot from my experiences so far and am very interested to continue with AFL umpiring. I would like to reach the same skill level that I have for refereeing rugby union so that I can continue my umpiring career with confidence. There are many challenges which I need to overcome, but I am hopeful that I can become an asset to AFL Asia.

Sophoan & Chia at the Asian Champs

Sophoan is already becoming an invaluable addition to AFL Asia both for her umpiring and infectious enthusiasm. Pictured here at the 2018 Champs with Vietnam Swans Coach Chia Sabbatucci