Female referees at the 2022 World Cup

Change and acceptance need consistency. A longread, not only about female referees at the 2022 World Cup.

In football, it is a hedge that has often been divided and then overgrown again – and not just for a few years, but for almost a century.

Yes, there have been women in men’s football for almost 100 years, and that on the field as match officials – female referees and assistant referees. At first only a few, but for a good 30 years now and then in the highest level of men’s football – be it in a country’s top league or in international football.

Now they were in the highest place: the men’s football World Cup. Stéphanie Frappart from France was the first female referee (1 December 2022). US-American and assistant referee Kathryn Nesbitt was the first woman to officiate at the final of a men’s World Cup (as a reserve assistant referee) (18 December 2022).

Incidentally, in the qualifying matches for this World Cup, it was Stéphanie Frappart and Karen Díaz Medina, among others, who made history: While Frappart was the very first female referee to be nominated for a WC qualifier on 27 March 2021, it was the two Mexicans Karen Díaz Medina and Francia González who were appointed as assistant referees and as the very first women ever for (two different) matches as early as 24 March 2021.

Over the Hedge

Female referees at a World Cup for the first time. Was that the breakthrough?

No one can answer that yet, because what is important is: the consistency with which women step out through the hedge. They take the first steps – stepping into the hedge are very tough steps. But once the ground is made, the next women can move on. They can literally follow in the footsteps of their predecessors and go ahead, opening the way further for their successors.

But that is exactly what has been happening over the last 30 years, even at the highest level – and yet far too rarely: There are too many mayflies, too many fig leaves. And by the time the next woman is nominated, the hedge and the foot stamps are already somewhat overgrown.

The system feeds itself

That’s why women have been making history time and again for 30 years and why it’s still an anomaly to see a woman in men’s football.

I can only repeat myself: I would love it if this history-making would finally become history. If I wasn’t felt to be the only person who writes the names and their achievements over and over again on the internet so that the information can be found.

But I fear it will go on for some time. Football, no, men’s football is a conservative sport. It feeds nostalgia. On the one hand, it is very wholesome to remember the time of one’s own football socialisation (You know, back then! When “football” wasn’t as bad as it is today! – No way, I’m sorry). But it also prevents from keeping up with the times.

Six female referees at the 2022 World Cup

The female referees at the 2022 World Cup

Neuza Back, Karen Díaz Medina, Stéphanie Frappart, Salima Mukansanga, Kathryn Nesbitt and Yoshimi Yamashita

In the run-up to the World Cup, I published articles, namely a general look at the six women in German as part of the FRUEF column at WebDE and in English and a bit more in-depth with education and motivation at Law5 – The Ref. The latter was a misstep, as the unfortunately completely unmoderated comments below the post just leave me shaking my head. Content Warning for the comments column there: Mensplaining, at times misogyny. A bit of everyday life, unfortunately, but with many helpful messages from people who have read the comments in disgust.

Law5 – The Ref also published my exclusive interview with female referee Salima Mukansanga in another article. Unfortunately, the response from the female referee for publication in the DFB referee newspaper only came after the editorial deadline.

First of all: I can’t say anything about the games and the match management. Not only because I am not a female referee, but because I deliberately decided not to watch any game of this competition.

On Twitter, Mastodon and LinkedIn, I pointed out the appointments of the female referees at the World Cup on the respective days. You don’t have to read them there, because I post the information from my database here in compact form.

Neuza Back

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  • Country: Brazil
  • Year of birth: 1984
  • Education/occupation: Professional assistant referee

Career as assistant referee:

  • 1998 or 1999: referee training
  • since 2009: Serie A (29 November)
  • since 2014: FIFA assistant referee
  • first time: 2020: Copa Sudamericano (05 November)
  • first time: 2021: FIFA Club World Cup (07 February)
  • first time: 2022: World Cup (m) (22 November)

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  • As there were no black football boots available in her shoe size, she painted her shoes black.
    Edina Alves Batista on Neuza Back: “She is the best assistant referee in the world, with an incredible strike rate. And to top it all off, she speaks and studies English and German.” (Source)
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Karen Díaz Medina

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  • Country: Mexico
  • Year of birth: 1984
  • Education/occupation: studied agricultural engineering

Career as assistant referee:

  • unknown year: referee training
  • since 2016: Liga MX (17 July) – one of the first three women to be appointed
  • since 2018: FIFA assistant referee
  • first time: 2021: FIFA World Cup qualifier (24 March) – one of the first two women ever to qualify
  • first time: 2022: World Cup (m) (23 November)

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  • She was working in the cafeteria of a sports centre when the referee failed to turn up for a football match. She filled in for him because she liked it so much and took the referee training course to earn some money.
  • Karen Díaz Medina: “When I was a little girl, I used to play football and my classmates would say, ‘Ay, you play like a man’. And now those characteristics that hurt me, those words that hurt me in that moment, now those are the skills that have helped me achieve my dreams. You never know what skills are hidden, so appreciate them. If you want to be a professional football official, follow your own path, accept it and fight with all your passion to achieve perfection and you will enjoy what you are doing.” (Source)
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Stéphanie Frappart

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  • Country: France
  • Year of birth: 1983
  • Education/occupation: Bachelor’s degree in sciences and technology in physical and sporting activities (“sciences et techniques des activités physiques et sportives”). She works part-time for Fédération Sportive et Gymnastique du Travail (FSGT), the French workers’ sports federation (activities coordinator).

Career as a female referee:

  • 1997: referee training
  • since 2009: FIFA female referee
  • first time: 2014: Ligue 2 (08 August) – first female referee in Ligue 2 and thus in professional football
  • since 2019: Ligue 1 (28 April) – first female referee in Ligue 1
  • first time: 2019: UEFA Super Cup (14 August) – first female referee in UEFA Super Cup
  • first time: 2020: Nations League (06 September) – first female referee in Nations League
  • since 2020: Europa League (17 September)
  • since 2020: Champions League (m) (02 December) – first female referee in the Champions League (m)
  • since 2021: FIFA VAR
  • first time: 2021: World Cup Qualification (m) (27 March) – first female referee in a World Cup Qualification (m)
  • first time: 2021: European Championship (m) (11 June) – was only used as 4th official, therefore first female match official at a European Championship (m)
  • first time: 2022: World Championship (m) (22 November) – first female match official at a World Championship (m)
  • first time: 2022: World Cup (m) (1 December) – first female referee at a World Cup (m)

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  • Was a player and female referee from 1994 or 1997 to 2003, then decided to focus on refereeing career
  • Footballer Pierre Bouby said of Stéphanie Frappart in 2019: “She has charisma and personality, but she is not a person who wants to come to the fore. She is there to keep her game.”  (Source)
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Salima Mukansanga

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  • Country: Rwanda
  • Year of birth: 1988
  • Education/occupation: professional female referee, previously a midwife.

Career as a female referee:

  • about 2005: referee training (in her final year at school)
  • since 2012: FIFA female referee
  • since 2018: National Football League
  • first time: 2022: Africa Cup of Nations (18 January)
  • first time: 2022: World Cup (m) (22 November) as 4th official

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  • “[In Rwanda, football] is a male-dominated field. People didn’t accept what we did. They reluctantly said, ‘She’s doing well.’ […] Lately, I have been focusing entirely on refereeing. At the moment it’s just professional refereeing, with daily training, games, video analysis and watching the games.” (Source)
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Kathryn Nesbitt

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  • Country: USA
  • Year of birth: 1988
  • Education/occupation: Professional assistant referee, previously chemistry professor (brain research).

Career as assistant referee:

  • unknown year: referee training
  • since 2015: MLS (03 May)
  • since 2016: FIFA assistant referee
  • first time: 2020: MLS Final (11 August)
  • first time: 2022: World Cup (m) (22 November)
  • first time: 2022: World Cup Final (m) (18 December)

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  • “Until two weeks before the 2019 Women’s World Cup, I was a professor of chemistry. I did my own research for ten years and started my own lab at the university (Towson University in Baltimore). My research background is to find better ways to analyse brain chemicals, and our lab focused on developing, improving and optimising techniques for sampling brain chemicals and then analysing them.” (Source)
  • Incidentally, she found out about her nomination for the World Cup through Twitter. And then? “I was just speechless, staring at it and couldn’t believe it happened. Then I was probably bouncing around the room for the next 20 minutes.” (Source)
  • “We’re human and we’re going to make mistakes. But the women who have come this far have dealt with this pressure for years. We’re all very experienced in what that feels like, and we’re ready for the challenge.” (Source)
  • Former assistant referee Mark Geiger on Kathryn Nesbitt: “Not only can she analyse what the right decision should be, but she knows from a gut feeling what the best decision would be for the game. And that’s not always the same. Sometimes you really have to feel the game and know what the best decision is at that moment and what helps the refereeing team to keep control of the game. She understood that.” (Source)
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Yoshimi Yamashita

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  • Country: Japan
  • Year of birth: 1986
  • Education/occupation: Professional assistant referee, previously sports teacher

Career as female referee:

  • about 2005: referee training
  • since 2015: FIFA female referee
  • for the first time in 2019: AFC Cup (14 May)
  • since 2021: FIFA VAR
  • first time: 2021: J League 3 (16 May) – first female referee in J3 and in Japanese professional football
  • first time: 2022: J League 2 (10 July) – first female referee in J3
  • first time: 2022: J League 1 (18 September) – first female referee in J3
  • first time: 2022: World Cup (m) (23 November) as 4th official

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  • Played football from the age of 4.
  • “She started refereeing as a student, influenced by the aforementioned Bozono who was playing in her colleague’s team at the time. She invited me to join them as a female referee and I found it very interesting. Who would have thought that one day we would be refereeing a Women’s World Cup match together?” she said, referring to the round of 16 match between Germany and Nigeria at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France™ (Source).
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First female referees at Men’s World Cup – Some statistics

The following two charts show the appointments of the six female referees at the 2022 World Cup:

Female referees at the 2022 World Cup and their appointments - Stéphanie Frappart: Group Stage: 1x Referee, 2x 4th Official. Knockout Stage: was not appointed due to the success of the French team. Salima Mukansanga: Group Stage: 3x 4th Official. Knockout Stage: no participation. Yoshimi Yamashita: Group Stage 6x 4th Official. Knockout Stage: no participation.
Female referees at the 2022 World Cup and their appointments
The assistant referees at the 2022 World Cup and their appointments - Kathryn Nesbitt: Group Stage: 1x Res. Assistant Ref, 5x Offside VAR, 1x Supportive AVAR. Knockout Stage: 1x Assistant Referee, 1x Res. Assistant Ref, 2x Offside VAR. - Neuza Back: Group Stage: 1x Assistant Referee, 5x Res.-Assistant Ref, 1x Offside VAR. Knockout Stage: 1x Res. Assistant Ref, 3x Offside VAR. - Karen Díaz Medina: Group Stage: 1x Assistant Referee, 4x Res.-Assistant Ref. Knockout Stage: no participation.
Female assistant referees at the 2022 World Cup and their appointments
  • Stéphanie Frappart was appointed as a one-time referee. She probably should have been appointed again in the knockout matches, but this was not implemented due to France’s successful progress.
  • All three assistant referees were appointed once each on the sidelines.
  • The three female referees were appointed as 4th officials a total of ten times during the group stage of the World Cup, of which Yoshimi Yamashita alone was appointed six times.
  • The three assistant referees were more frequently appointed as reserve assistant referees or in the Video Assistant Centre (VAC) as Offside VAR or Supportive AVAR.

Appointments in the group and knockout stages

In 48 matches in the group phase there was:

  • 1x one female referee
  • 2x one assistant referee
  • 10x a fourth official
  • 10x one reserve assistant
  • 6x an Offside VAR and
  • 1x a supportive AVAR

In 16 matches of the knockout phase there were:

  • 1x an Assistant Referee
  • 2x a reserve assistant and
  • 5x one Offside VAR

Appointments per match official

  • Stéphanie Frappart: 3, all in the group stage
  • Salima Mukansanga 2, all in the group phase
  • Yoshimi Yamashita: 6, all in the group stage
  • Kathryn Nesbitt: 11, of which 7 in the group stage
  • Neuza Back: 11, 7 of them in the group stage
  • Karen Díaz Medina: 5, all in group stage

Assignment highlights

  • Yamashita was appointed as a fourth official six times – 100% of her appearances
  • Nesbitt was appointed as an offside VAR seven times in the VAC – ~64% of her appearances
  • Back was appointed five times as a reserve assistant (~45% of her appearances) and four times in the VAC as an offside VAR (~36% of her appearances)

Support instead of Worries

The German newspaper AZ Online published an article titled “Why the call-up of Stéphanie Frappart in the Germany match was irresponsible“. Contrary to my fears, it was not a misogynistic bashing of Frappart’s performance in the match between Costa Rica and Germany, which would also have been completely unnecessary.

Instead, it is a certain kind of worrying for Frappart: What was Collina thinking when he put a woman on for the first time in such a decisive match? He was playing with fire, the author writes, because how big would the outcry have been if she had made mistakes – then Collina would have done a disservice to the critics of women in men’s football.

As well-meaning as the intention of the article is: there is no need for such great worrying care. I am not writing this because it is always easier to judge in hindsight and Frappart’s performance was remarkably experienced and confident. No, her performance was experienced and confident because she is. And it wouldn’t have mattered at all whether the first game with a female referee was a contested one or not.

There is no need to worry about, but to support women in football. Even, and especially, when things don’t go optimally.

And that did not only apply to the female referees at the World Cup.

When it comes to diversity in football, the nagging often follows that it should be about competence instead of quotas.

But some men overlook the fact that without competence, women would not have made it as far as they have. And she has not only already demonstrated competence, but also the strength and the will to put up with his misogynistic wind.

You want even better competence? Very much so. Then do something to ensure that the same working conditions prevail for all genders and that women get the chance to develop just as much as men. So that there is any comparability at all.

The lion has a good laugh at the mouse, but he should not underestimate her special abilities. But it wouldn’t be the first time I think of the history of women in football 50 years ago. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme from time to time.

Female referees at the World Cup: the beginning of the beginning?

History was made and I am still very happy that there was a game with an all-female team. The picture is now out in the world. It happened. And Frappart’s jersey is coming to Zurich to the FIFA Museum.

It’s just a pity that it was a one-off and happened so little visibly. By that I mean: women as part of the referee team running onto the field and caught on camera.

It was great to have a woman, Kathryn Nesbitt, at the World Cup final outside the VAC, but a shame she was only a reserve assistant.

Again, it has something of “It’s well meant, but…” really well done too? And I’m not sure myself whether to be hopeful or disappointed.

As I wrote above: the next FIFA competitions will show how seriously Pierluigi Collina meant his words about female referees at a World Cup.

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

La prendo in parola, Signore Collina, I take you at your word.

Read more on Football-History.Info about female referees in men’s football.