Huge respect to female refs at Qatar World Cup

Salima Mukansanga

Rwandan referee Salima Mukansanga  during the Group B Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 match between Zimbabwe and Guinea at Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in Yaounde on January 18, 2022.

Photo credit: Kenzo Tribouillard | AFP

What you need to know:

  • It is the first time that female referees are allowed to preside over the men’s Fifa World Cup, a fact that will certainly break the record books for female referees.

It takes a thick skin and real determination to become a top-level referee, and that’s even truer for women. And when football’s biggest competition kicks off this Sunday in Qatar, special focus will be on the three female referees who have been picked to officiate in the tournament.

It is the first time that female referees are allowed to preside over the men’s Fifa World Cup, a fact that will certainly break the record books for female referees.

Japan’s Yamashita Yoshimi, Salima Mukansanga from Rwanda and France’s Stephanie Frappart will represent the community of female centre referees, alongside Neuza Back from Brazil, Karen Diaz Medina from Mexico, and Kathryn Nesbitt from the United States who will be in Qatar as assistant referees.

Six female officials in total, and they have all had to come up the hard way.

Frappart, 37, is no stranger to the misogyny that follows women in sport. She became the first woman to officiate a men’s Uefa Super Cup final (Liverpool vs Chelsea) back in 2019, and was also the centre referee in the men’s Uefa Champions League game between Juventus and Dynamo Kyiv in 2020.

Watching videos of Stephanie at work, I was struck by her agility and intense game face. But off the pitch, I gather she has been battling the usual chauvinism. Just last month, French international Jerome Rothen dedicated a whole radio show to discredit Stephanie’s Qatar selection, saying she is “not up to scratch.”

Indeed, the higher the profile, the greater the criticism.

Salima Mukansanga, 33, is a Rwandan referee who officiated her first game aged 15 and has presided over some of the most important tournaments in the world. You know her because two years ago, she became the first woman to referee two games at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.

In the match between Zimbabwe and Guinea, she battled immense pressure before a crowd that naturally berates referees, whether men or female, and delivered an unblemished performance. In the video replay there was an instance when a Guinean forward, perhaps stunned by a woman officiating a men’s game, patronisingly touched her arm to suggest that she reconsider a teammate’s yellow card. 

Mukansanga, her unreadable game face on, asked him: “Do you want one yourself?” The forward very quickly left the scene.

Neuza Ines Back returns to Qatar for the first time since the 2020 Club World Cup final where she was the reserve assistant referee, alongside her compatriot Edina Alves Batista.

At the post-match presentation ceremony following Bayern Munich’s 1-0 win over Mexican giants Tigres, Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad of the Qatari royal family jovially bumped fists with male players and officials as they filed past him to collect their medals.

But when Back and Batista reached him, Al Thani looked right past the two women as though they did not exist. Footage of the incident quickly went viral, but organisers said it was a “minor misunderstanding” related to Covid-19 hygiene protocols, One hopes that at this year’s World Cup, the experience will be more positive for these highly qualified women. 

Though their selection is confirmation that the push for better representation is bearing fruit, and that qualifications are taking precedence, what happens during and after the said matches is equally important. Let the games begin!

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