Women will officiate at a men’s World Cup for the first time in Qatar – and that is a positive step for female officials across the globe. Three referees and three assistant referees will form part of the 129 match officials who will cover the 64 matches and their selections are nothing to do with gender and all about merit.
The 36 referees, 69 assistant referees and 24 video match officials have been selected on their performances during Fifa fixtures and at other international and domestic competitions.
The six making history are: the referees Stéphanie Frappart from France, Yoshimi Yamashita from Japan and Salima Mukansanga from Rwanda, and the assistant referees Neuza Back from Brazil, Karen Díaz Medina from Mexico and Kathryn Nesbitt from the USA. The fantastic element of the selections is that they will be representing five confederations: AFC, Caf, Concacaf, Conmebol and Uefa.
The selections conclude a long process that started several years ago with the deployment of female referees at Fifa men’s junior and senior tournaments. I hope this is only the start and it becomes the norm seeing female officials at the biggest men’s tournament.
Whereas national teams have been arriving in Qatar over the past week, the officials met the previous week and that allows for a strong period of further integration for all those attending their first World Cup. This follows several seminars over the past few years, culminating in a main focus in the summer which allowed the officials to come together to work collaboratively on reviewing and analysing video clips of match situations and to take part in practical training sessions with players. These were filmed to enable participants to receive instant feedback from instructors.
Included in those seminars were England’s two teams of World Cup officials: Anthony Taylor, Gary Beswick and Adam Nunn; and Michael Oliver, Simon Bennett and Stuart Burt. Every official will be judged equally on the quality of their performances and will have undergone the same fitness testing to ensure they can operate over the next month on the biggest stage of all.
The elite female officials there are used to pressure through their involvement in the top levels of their national leagues and that will stand them in good stead for matches potentially watched by billions of people around the globe. From my own experiences, Fifa is really supportive of all officials.
The transition of more female officials into the top levels of the men’s game is also happening closer to home. Most notably, Natalie Aspinall has followed in the footsteps of Sian Massey Ellis into the Premier League, but a growing number of us are also officiating regularly on EFL fixtures, many driven through new opportunities via the elite referee development plan.
During my nine years as a referee, including three as a Fifa official since joining the list in 2020, I have had the pleasure of working alongside individuals from different backgrounds and cultures and in mixed-gender teams in men’s and women’s leagues. That only enhances the environment and helps to deliver the highest possible standard of refereeing.
This World Cup is a fantastic and welcome opportunity for six deserving female officials to showcase their quality. They are some the best, which is why they are there. I send my very best wishes to them for a successful tournament.