Between empowerment and PR strategy: A flash in the pan?

3 December 2020: Stéphanie Frappart is the first female referee to officiate a match in the Champions League (m). The media are full of praise afterwards and many women are happy about the appreciation. Who doesn’t remember Kate Abdo’s “2020 is the year it matters to be a girl dad” that went viral.

But what happened since then? Nothing. Stéphanie Frappart was the first – and so far the only one in the competition.

2021: Will anything change now? Yes, at the European Championship, Stéphanie Frappart was there as the fourth official.

But why not in the Champions League? Was it just a flash in the pan? Was it not the intention to use Frappart regularly? Or other women who have been used in the Europa League for several years, such as Kateryna Monzul, Sian Massey-Ellis or Chrysoula Kourompylia?

All-female match official teams in top men’s football

Yet 2021 could well be called the year of the female referee in men’s football. Never before have there been so many women refereeing in the national 1st divisions in men’s football as in 2021.

In addition, there were at least twelve teams of referees in major men’s tournaments with at least three women in 2021 – a fourfold increase on 2020.

These twelve teams included:

  • Lidya Tafesse Abebe, Bernadettar Kwimbira, Mimisen Agatha Iyorhe at the African Nations Cup.
  • Edina Alves Battista, Neuza Ines Back, Mariana de Almeida at the FIFA Club World Cup
  • Kateryna Monzul, Maryna Serhiivna Striletska, Svitlana Grusho, Liudmyla Telbukh at the World Cup Qualifiers (UEFA)
  • And even a team of five women plus a referee observer at the Copa Libertadores (m), namely Edina Alves Batista, Neuza Back, Cindy Nahuelcoy, Maria Belen Carvajal, plus Ana Paula de Oliveira as VAR and Sabrina Lois as observer.

Several national leagues also had match official teams with at least three women for the first time, such as Mozambique (1st division), Liberia (1st division), Kazakhstan (1st division), Jordan (1st division), the USA (2nd division) and Germany (3rd division) with Riem Hussein, Christina Biehl and Katrin Rafalski – the only three women referees in German men’s professional football.

Conclusion: A step forward – is there more to come?

The first half of 2021 was full of months in which female referees in men’s football took a good step forward. Mostly thanks to FIFA, because after women refereed Club World Cup matches for the first time (a men’s football competition), FIFA followed suit in the spring. For the first time, women officiated men’s World Cup qualifying matches in various continental associations.

Here, Stéphanie Frappart was the first female referee, but not the very first woman in this competition. Three days before her, Karen Díaz Medina and Francia González assisted in two World Cup qualifiers in the North and Central American football association CONCACAF.
And at UEFA? Are things really moving forward or was Frappart’s stint in the Champions League (m) just a brief flare-up of the embers that have only been smouldering for 30 years?
A few days ago, UEFA took the next step: Frappart and Monzul are the first female referees to be included in the UEFA list of referees for men’s football competitions.

This leaves us looking to 2022 and hoping. The hope that female referees in men’s football will not continue to write history over and over again for another 30 years, but that their use will become a normality. But for that to happen, they would have to be used more frequently and regularly.

Now it’s up to the associations. A hot tip: Promote women without thinking about PR in the back of your mind. Then you will also get good karma for free.

Milestones in 2021

  • 23 January 2021 – Lidya Tafesse Abebe (Ethiopia): First female referee in a CAF men’s football international competition, namely the African Nations Championship.
  • 7 February 2021 – Edina Battista Alves (Brazil), Mariana de Almeida (Argentina), Neuza Back (Brazil): First female referee or assistant referees in a club competition in FIFA men’s football, namely the Club World Cup.
  • 24 March 2021 – Karen Díaz Medina (Mexico), Francia González (Mexico): First female assistant referees and, in general, first female match officials in a FIFA international men’s football competition, namely the World Cup qualifiers.
  • 27 March 2021 – Stéphanie Frappart (France): First female referee in an international country competition in FIFA men’s football, namely World Cup Qualification.
  • 10 April 2021 – Akhona Makalima (South Africa): First female assistant referee and, in general, first female match official in a CAF club competition, namely the Champions League.
  • 19 May 2021 – Tori Penso (USA), Stephanie-Dale Yee Sing (Jamaica), Karen Diaz (Mexico), Francia Gonzalez (Mexico): First female referee or assistant referees in a club competition in CONCACAF men’s football, namely the 2021 Flow CONCACAF Caribbean Club Championship.
  • 11 June 2021 – Stéphanie Frappart (France): First female 4th official, as well as first female match official in general, in a UEFA men’s football international competition, namely the European Championship.

This article first appeared on WebDE in German as a FRÜF column on 29 December 2021 and reflects the status at that time.