Ayanna Mc Clean

IN CHARGE: Trinidad and Tobago's FIH Grade one-certified umpire Ayanna Mc Clean carries the whistle at an FIH World Hockey League event, last year.

After having missed out on the Rio Olympics, TTO’s Ayanna Mc Clean will finally achieve her goal of the ultimate umpiring appointment: officiating at the July 23-August 8 Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

In an international career that has spanned 16 years to date, this Japan assignment is the pinnacle of her hockey officiating feats.

One of two Trinidad and Tobago Hockey Board (TTHB) officials to secure an Olympic appointment by the International Hockey Federation (FIH)—the other is Reyah Richardson (technical official)—the 39-year-old former national hockey player is set to become the first female from the country to umpire at the quadrennial Games and only the second from T&T since Roger St Rose blew the whistle at the 1996 Atlanta edition.

Richardson also achieves a gender milestone, becoming the first T&T female to be a technical officer at the Olympics and following in the footsteps of veteran hockey administrator Willard Harris who officiated in the same position at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

Before this latest posting, Mc Clean graced the field as umpire in the women’s final of the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, her highest accolade to date.

The former Ventures player was one of 14 umpires selected for the women’s hockey competition, and one of four from the Pan American region. This maiden Olympic outing marks another milestone in the PAHF Grade 1 umpire’s stellar career.

“I am not sure I could exactly explain how exciting it was because as with anybody who has been appointed to the Olympics, first being an athlete then transitioning over into the umpiring, the amount of work you put in to reach that type of goal, and when you exactly achieve it, I feel very, ya know confusing, exciting and all these different feelings and emotions came to me, all these at the same time,” said Mc Clean.

Describing the selection as a “phenomenal feeling” and the “ultimate appointment” of her career, Mc Clean is proudly following in the footsteps of her mother Cherril Franco, a pioneer in female officiating herself. Franco was the first woman from T&T to become a Grade one FIH umpire.

“Just where my hockey career started basically picking grass, watching my mom play hockey, dropping my mother off to the airport when she was an umpire to go to her tournaments, and she having her personal achievements by being the top umpire in the region in her time, and then now to double down on what she has done, and to think that there are still firsts that are out there for us as females to achieve, one, it is kind of sad, but to be the one that has broken that ceiling is really, really exciting,” Mc Clean emphasised.

“Every time I sit down and think about it, every time I have to have an interview or write a bio or something, you are chugging along here doing the work that you are doing but you’re actually seeing the results and it helps me to go on to even further.”

At this stage, Mc Clean, a Hofstra University graduate, has certainly surpassed mom Cherril’s officiating accomplishments.

Star-studded umpiring journey

Her star-studded umpiring journey embarked shortly after becoming an FIH-certified umpire with a stint at the 2005 Junior Pan American Championships in Puerto Rico. She then carried the whistle at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, the 2009 Pan American Cup and the 2010 Pan American Youth Championships. Also in 2010, she served as a neutral umpire at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, and then at the 2011 Pan American Games in Mexico, building her résumé to such a high level that in 2013 she was honoured for umpiring her 50th international match at the 2013 Pan American Cup.

In 2013, Mc Clean also replicated her mother’s achievement by becoming an FIH Grade one umpire, becoming the highest-ranked female umpire from the Caribbean, a position she still enjoys. Other highlights include the 2015 Hockey World League semifinal in Spain, the 2015 Hockey World League final in Argentina and the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada.

Mc Clean also officiated at the 2018 Asian Games, the 2018 Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup in London and in the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games final.

And in the years preceding the Tokyo Games, she appeared in the 2019 FIH Pro League (Women), the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, and the 2019 FIH Hockey Olympic qualifiers.

“I just hope that I can use this opportunity to inspire more people, not just in the field of hockey or in officiating but athletes and young women and people in like not even the best of circumstances to continue to go after things that they really want to achieve because that’s what I did,” Mc Clean said, thanking those, including fellow FIH umpires, who supported and other persons that put up obstacles in her way.

“They actually still did by giving you that extra lil ting to push you over the line when somebody says ‘you can’t do it’ to say ‘Yup, I can!’ So, it means the world to me or even more than that.”

Mc Clean is one of four umpires from the Pan American region selected, all through the stringent FIH selection process of making all appointments from the FIH Pro League panels as these are the top-rated officials.

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