The rise and rise of female referees

We don’t need an excuse to enjoy the World Cup taking place in Qatar, but this tournament is special for one very good reason: it’s the first time female referees have taken part.

At our SoccerDays football sessions, we see first-hand how many girls really love football. It’s been boosted by the success of the Lionesses, who won the Women’s World Cup (WWC) in 2019 and this year scooped the UEFA Women’s Championship.

So it’s amazing to know female referees Stéphanie Frappart, Salima Mukansanga and Yoshimi Yamashita are among the competition’s selected officials.

Let’s find out more about these three female officials who are making sporting history.

Stéphanie Frappart: from Ligue 1 to the Women’s World Cup

Stéphanie Frappart is widely recognised as one of the leading referees in women’s football and a one of the pioneering female referees in the men’s game.

The watershed year of 2019 saw her oversee the WWC final and become the first female official of a French Ligue 1 match. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, the French official then refereed the men’s Uefa Super Cup between Liverpool and Chelsea.

In 2020, she became the first woman to oversee a men’s Champions League match and, last year, was the first to referee a men’s World Cup qualifier. In 2022, she took charge of the 2022 Coupe de France final.

Speaking about being among the Qatari tournament’s first three female referees, she said: “It’s a strong sign from FIFA and the authorities to have women referees in that country. I’m not a feminist spokesperson, but if this can make things happen…”

Yoshimi Yamashita: blazing a trail in the J league

Japan’s Yoshimi Yamashita became the first female referee of a J1 League game in May 2021, before she officiated games in this year’s Women’s Asian Cup and the Asian equivalent of the men’s Champions League.

“There are hardly any female referees in the Middle East, so I would like to see that change, with the Qatar World Cup as the catalyst,” she said.

“The fact that women are officiating for the first time at a men’s World Cup is a sign to other people that women’s potential is always growing and that is something I also feel strongly about.”

Salima Mukansanga: an AFCON icon

Salima Mukansanga from Rwanda will appear at the Qatar World Cup, 10 months after becoming the first woman to referee a game at the Africa Women Cup of Nations.

She also led the first-ever all-female officiating team at the men’s Africa Cup of Nations, when Zimbabwe took on Guinea.

Mukansanga has also appeared as a referee at the Olympics, the Women’s World Cup and in the CAF Women’s Champions League. “Officiating at the World Cup is every referee’s dream,” she enthused.

But they’re not the only female officials taking part in this year’s FIFA World Cup for the first time.

Female assistant referees at the men’s World Cup

As well as the three female referees, three female assistants will also be participating in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Brazil’s Neuza Back, Karen Diaz Medina from Mexico and the USA’s Kathryn Nesbitt are among the assistant referees overseeing the 2022 World Cup.

Pierluigi Collina, chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee, said: “We are very happy that… we have been able to call up women officials for the first time in the history of a FIFA World Cup.

“This concludes a long process that began several years ago with the deployment of female referees at FIFA men’s junior and senior tournaments. In this way, we clearly emphasise that it is quality that counts for us and not gender.”

He added: “I would hope that in the future, the selection of elite women’s match officials for important men’s competitions will be perceived as something normal and no longer as sensational.

“They deserve to be at the World Cup because they constantly perform at a really high level, and that’s the important factor for us.”

More girls and women becoming referees

Men currently outnumber women football referees but the gap is closing.

In 2020, the Football Association reported 2,146 female officials across the women’s football pyramid, overseeing 63% of matches in the Women’s Super League.

Change is happening. In January this year, Rebecca Welch became the first female referee of a men’s FA Cup third-round tie, while Sian Massey-Ellis and Amy Fearn are also becoming regular fixtures in the game.

SoccerDays sessions: open to all

We see lots of girls at our fun football sessions who not only love their sport, but are interested in following in the footsteps of Frappart, Yamashita and Mukansanga.

Our aim is for them to lay the foundations of a healthy lifestyle, boost their body coordination and make lots of friends. But who knows, some of them may go all the way and make it to the FIFA international referees list.

Whether your child wants to blow the whistle at a World Cup final, or just wants to have an amazing time kicking a ball around, they’ll find fun and football at our sessions.

Book your free trial here or for more information email or use this contact form, and we’ll get back to you straightaway.