By day, Christina Unkel is a litigation attorney whose work focuses primarily on the practice of business law and complex litigation. After hours, however, the Latina born in San Diego to a Guatemalan father and Honduran mother, can be found on the soccer field officiating matches and holding men accountable for their actions.
In a recent mini-documentary produced by Red Bull, the soccer referee talks about how she has come to command a field largely occupied by men.
Unkel has had a twenty-year career in refereeing and currently holds a FIFA Badge which allows her to officiate international games.
CREDIT: Credit: Red Bull
To say Unkel’s presence in a primarily male-dominated sport is anything short of bold would be a gross understatement. Referee titles and FIFA Badges are hard to come by for anyone with a career in the field of soccer. Particularly women.
For one, matching the tight requirements for eligibility is a lot like jumping hoops. Anyone trying to obtain a FIFA badge must be first be nominated, then pass a fitness test, and finally: be able to enforce the rules of the game in whatever corner of the world a scrimmage takes place. These firm stipulations mean slots for open FIFA badges are few and far between.
Unkel’s husband, Ted Unkel, also a referee, is only one out of seven men in the United States to hold the FIFA Referee’s Badge. For women, the tally of female FIFA Badge bearers is even smaller. Unkel is one of three women in the country to have a FIFA Badge, a label that allows her to referee professional soccer games abroad.
The Latina says her assertiveness and appreciation for fair play is a trait that has propelled her in her careers as both an attorney and a ref.
CREDIT: Credit: Red Bull
“I started when I was 10 because I liked to yell at the referees,” Unkel told Soccer Nation in an interview. “My coach was a referee and he told me I couldn’t yell at the refs unless I knew what I was talking about.” After taking a class for refereeing, Unkel explained that her continued outspokenness at games captured the attention of a referee who ultimately recruited her to be more involved in officiating.
Her presence on both the soccer field and in the courtroom is where her passion for her two careers clearly align. On her days in the office, Unkel says that she uses her subspeciality in gender equality work to help other women fight for fair treatement.
“Refereeing has helped me to become a litigator, I have a subspecialty in my law where I do gender equality work,” she explains in the 60 Second Red Bull doc. “The passion to continue to break that glass ceiling and to be able to overcome those obstacles is what fuels me to push for gender equality.”
Check out a clip of the Latina athlete below!
Red Bull Media House and 60 Second Docs are story collaborating on a five-part micro-documentary series called Playing for Change, shining a light on five females who are breaking barriers and re-defining roles in the world of soccer. The series launches in conjunction with Neymar Jr’s Five – the Brazilian soccer star’s signature five-a-side global tournament where more than 100,000 male and female players celebrate their shared passion of footbal for a chance to play at the World Finals in Neymar Jr’s Brazilian hometown.