The Qatar World Cup was always going to be a World Cup of firsts. The first time the sport’s most-watched event is to be played in the Middle East. The first time it will be played in November and December. And now it may also be the first men’s World Cup to be refereed by a woman.
Among the three women named on FIFA Wednesday, 36 referees were chosen to officiate at the event and three more in the group’s assistants that will run the line at the month-long tournament. The most likely candidate among the three to get a starring role is Stephanie Frappart, a French woman who has broken a number of barriers in European soccer.
Frappart, who made the list alongside female referees from Rwanda and Japan, has a stellar reputation in becoming the first women to referee men in the Champions League, France’s top division and World Cup qualification games. She made history again earlier this month when she took charge of the French Cup final.
Frappart was also selected to join the officiating teams at last summer’s European Championship but his role was limited to that of the fourth official, a function on the sidelines of the game between the opposing teams of the benches.
In announcing its refereeing choices, FIFA may now take a step further. Joining Frappart in the refereeing group are Salima Mukansanga from Rwanda and Yoshimi Yamashita from Japan. They, and other World Cup-bound officials, will attend the seminars to prepare for the 32-team event.
“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 emphasize that it is the quality that counts for us and not the gender, “said Pierluigi Collina, chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee.
North American women have also been selected in the tournament as assistant referees. Kathryn Nesbitt, now a regular in Major League Soccer, is joined by Karen Díaz Medina of Mexico. Neuza Back from Brazil is also included.
For FIFA, the push to include more women on and off the field has become increasingly urgent amid greater scrutiny of how it manages sports and a growing global interest in women’s soccer. More money than ever has been invested in developing players and match officials. That, Collina said, should help make the sight, and the inclusion, of female referees less of a talking point than it is today.
“I would hope that in the future, important male competitions for elite women’s match officials will be perceived as something normal and no longer as sensational. They deserve to be at the FIFA World Cup because they constantly perform at a really high level, and that’s an important factor for us, “he said.
Still, the environment and the focus on female officials can be exacting. Frappart faced a torrent of abusive messages on social media before and after he officiated in the French cup game, a game that was won following a penalty call.
Frappart said before that game that she stays away from social media and rarely reads the press.
“Personally, I’m focused on what happens on the pitch and don’t pay attention to controversies or discussions about my performances,” she said.