More Top Stories


Nines in Paradise thrills

9 January 2024


The year in sports 2023

31 December 2023


2023 year in review

31 December 2023

Rugby league

Moana target 2025 World Cup

11 November 2022

Young ref makes international debut

Friday 8 December 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Football, Sports


Young ref makes international debut
From left, Cook Islands Football Association referee director Rakesh Varman, young referee George George and Moeroa Tamangaro, acting president of CIFA. CIFA Media/23101228

Sixteen-year-old dynamic referee George George, hailing from the picturesque Cook Islands, has taken a giant leap onto the global arena, officiating the fiercely contested matches at the prestigious Western Springs U17 Youth Football Tournament in New Zealand.

In March 2023, George embarked on his ambitious journey into the world of refereeing under the watchful eye of Rakesh Varman, the referee director of the Cook Islands Football Association (CIFA).

As part of CIFA’s innovative campaign to discover and nurture young, exceptional referees, Varman, scoured schools across Rarotonga, seeking out promising candidates with a burning passion for the sport.

During one such school visit, he chanced upon George and his friends, their eyes lighting up at the prospect of a unique opportunity in football. Sensing their potential, Varman persuaded the school principal to introduce referee’s programmes in the school.

Seizing the opportunity, George and his friends embarked on their journey, immersing themselves in rigorous referee training programmes and gaining invaluable practical experience by presiding over local matches.

George’s dedication, unwavering focus, and growing expertise soon saw him officiating tournaments hosted by CIFA, such as the electrifying Kia Orana Youth Football Festival and matches in the Rarotonga Football Season.

When the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) sought promising referees for the Western Springs U17 Youth Football Tournament, George’s talents were impossible to overlook. His nomination by Varman for this prestigious event marks an important milestone in his career, providing him with unparalleled international exposure and setting him on the path for future global tournaments.

Moeroa Tamangaro, acting president of CIFA, lauded George’s rise to international refereeing as a beacon of inspiration for other young hopefuls.

Tamangaro expressed her pride in CIFA’s efforts to foster young talent by sending two of their top youth referees and a senior to New Zealand recently. 

“Our commitment to sending our people abroad for development and experience is a key part of elevating football in the Cook Islands,” she added.

George is now among the elite group of 10 youth referees selected from across the Pacific to officiate the U17 tournament through the distinguished OFC Referees Academy Programme.

Kevin Stoltenkamp, OFC Head of Referee, was particularly impressed, noting, “it’s been quite some time since the Cook Islands have sent referees to partake in these development programme”.

With their eyes set on the future, George and Penina Katuke, another rising star from the Cook Islands, are eager to pave the way for their fellow referees, showcasing the immense opportunities awaiting them.

  • CIFA Media