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Mukansanga, Frappart, Yamashita… meet the first female referees to officiate at men’s World Cup

Salima Mukansanga Salima Mukansanga
The Rwandan became the first woman to officiate at the Africa Cup of Nations in the group stages Photo credit: Sebastian Frej/Imago

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is a competition of many firsts — the first Mundial to be held in the middle east, the first to fall into the winter season and the first-ever to include female referees. 

Throughout the 92-year history of the men’s World Cup, Qatar would be the first time women will be listed among the officials to handle games.

Six out of 36 officials in Qatar are women, further shattering another glass ceiling of gender inclusion in the world’s most popular sport.

Three of the women — Yoshimi Yamashita, Salima Mukansanga and Stephanie Frappart — are referees who will be in charge of games at the World Cup.

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Through the next one month, these trailblazers will be seen orchestrating matches and imposing FIFA rules on some of the biggest names in football.

Below are short profiles of the three female referees set to break records in Qatar:

Stéphanie Frappart

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Frappart is a French official who began refereeing at the age of 13. Her passion for football was fueled by her father, an amateur player for a local team in her Herblay-Sur-Seine community.

French referee Stephanie Frappart
Photo credit: VCG Photo

She sacrificed her passion for playing the game to nurturing the awareness and decision-making that makes a good referee, and her decision began bearing fruits early.

At just 18, she was already officiating matches for the national U-19 league. By 2011, Frappart was promoted to the Championnat National, the third division of the men’s football league in France.

She became the first female referee in the Ligue 2 division three years later. The burden failed to slow her down, as she was regarded as one of the best officials in the league.

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In 2019, she was promoted to the Ligue 1 as the first female referee in the French’s top division. Later that year, Frappart became the first female referee to handle a major men’s European match when she was named to officiate the 2019 UEFA Super Cup between Liverpool and Chelsea.

She went on to become the first female referee to officiate a UEFA Champions League game and men’s FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

Salima Mukansanga

Mukansanga was born in Rusizi District, West Province, a city about five hours away from Kigali, the Rwandan capital, and football was not her first love.

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Salima Mukansanga
The Rwandan became the first woman to officiate at the Africa Cup of Nations in the group stages
Photo credit: Sebastian Frej/Imago

She loved basketball, but access to the necessary facilities made her quit, as her attention shifted to football.

Mukansanga decided to become a referee earlier in life, but her dream was nearly cut short after the Rwandan FA refused her licence due to her age.

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However, she overcame the barrier and taught herself the laws of the game to improve her knowledge and abilities.

What followed was a litany of successes: her FIFA badge arrived in 2012, and she became a mainstay in the Rwanda league games before continental appearances.

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In Tokyo 2021, Mukansanga became the first African woman to be the centre referee of a quarter-final match of the women’s football event at the Olympics.

A few months later, at the 2022 African Cup of Nations (AFCON), she also became the first woman to officiate a match in the competition.

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Yoshimi Yamashita

Yamashita is almost the Asian replica of Frappart. Her rise to the summit of the world footballing community has fetched her fame and accolades.

Yamashita officiated at the 2019 Women’s World Cup and at last year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Photo credit: Reuters

Earlier this year, she became the first woman to officiate a match in the J-League, Japan’s first division.

The Japanese also became the first woman to handle an Asian Champions League (AFC) match.

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