The Qatar World Cup was always going to be a World Cup of firsts. For the first time, the most watched sporting event will 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 have a match refereed by a woman.
FIFA on Wednesday named three women among the 36 referees chosen to officiate at the event and three more among the group of assistants who will lead the line at the month-long tournament. The most likely candidate among the three to land a starring role is Stephanie Frappart, a Frenchwoman who has broken down a number of barriers in European football.
Frappart, who was on the list alongside female referees from Rwanda and Japan, has a stellar reputation in European football becoming the first woman to referee men in the Champions League, French Premier League and qualifying matches for the World Cup. She made history again earlier this month when she took charge of the Coupe de France final.
Frappart was also chosen to join the refereeing teams during the European Championship last summer but her role was limited to that of fourth official, a function on the sidelines of the match between the benches of the opposing teams.
By announcing its arbitration choices, FIFA could now seek to go further. Joining Frappart in the refereeing panel are Salima Mukansanga from Rwanda and Yoshimi Yamashita from Japan. They and other World Cup officials will attend preparation seminars for the 32-team event.
“This concludes a long process that began several years ago with the deployment of female referees in FIFA men’s junior and senior tournaments. In this way, we are clearly emphasizing that it is quality that matters to us and not sex,” said Pierluigi Collina, chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee.
North American women were also selected to participate in the tournament as assistant referees. Kathryn Nesbitt, now a Major League Soccer regular, is joined by Mexico’s Karen Díaz Medina. Also included is Neuza Back from Brazil.
For FIFA, the drive to include more women on and off the pitch has become increasingly urgent amid greater scrutiny of the way it runs sport and growing global interest in the game. women’s football. More money than ever has been invested in player and match official development. This, Collina said, should help ensure that the view and inclusion of female referees is less debatable than it is today.
“I hope that in the future, the selection of elite women’s match officials for important men’s competitions will be seen as something normal and not sensational anymore. They deserve to be at the FIFA World Cup because they consistently perform at a very high level, and that’s the important factor for us,” he said.
Yet the environment and focus on female civil servants can be demanding. Frappart faced a torrent of abusive messages on social media before and after refereeing the Coupe de France match, in a match won following a penalty.
Frappart said before that match that she stayed away from social media and rarely read the press.
“Personally, I’m focused on what’s happening on the pitch and I don’t pay attention to controversies or discussions about my performance,” she said.