Meet the three women referees at the 2022 FIFA World Cup


The 2022 World Cup will be one of many firsts.

The event is being staged in Qatar, the first Middle Eastern nation to host the event. It will also be the first World Cup to begin in November instead of the summer due to the country’s climate.

On the field, while players look to etch their names into soccer lore, three referees and three assistant referees are on their way to making history of their own.

Stephanie Frappart of France, Yoshimi Yamashita of Japan and Salima Mukasanga of Rwanda can become the first female referees ever to officiate a World Cup match. FIFA announced in May that the trio was among the 36 head referees appointed for the event.

Frappart, Yamashita and Mukasanga will also be joined by three female assistant referees in Qatar. Neuza Back of Brazil, Karen Díaz Medina of Mexico and Kathryn Nesbitt of the United States are among the pool of 69 assistants who will help officiate matches.

“I think it’s a huge moment when you can have female referees at the World Cup for the first time,” soccer journalist Grant Wahl told NBC Sports. “I can’t wait until it’s no longer news-making or history-making, but it still is at this point.”

FIFA shared a similar emphasis in its May announcement, saying it wants to make the appointment of women referees in men’s competitions more commonplace.

“In this way, we clearly emphasize that it is quality that counts for us and not gender,” the organization said in its statement. “I would hope that in the future, the selection of elite women’s match officials for important men’s competitions will be perceived as something normal and no longer as sensational.”

All three head referees have experience on the global stage in men’s soccer. Yamashita has officiated in Japan’s men’s league, the Asian Football Confederation Champions League and the Tokyo Olympics. Mukasanga made history in January as the first woman to referee a contest in the Africa Cup of Nations.

Frappart brings high-level World Cup experience to the table. Along with men’s qualifying matches, the UEFA Champions League and the French Cup final, Frappart refereed the 2019 Women’s World Cup Final between the U.S. women’s national team and the Netherlands.

“She’s fantastic, doesn’t take any stick and should be getting important games,” Wahl said of Frappart. “I’m hoping she does that. I’m hoping she does well in this tournament.”

There is no guarantee Frappart, Yamashita and Mukasanga will each get a chance to officiate any of the 64 World Cup matches over the next month. FIFA is able to use any of its 36 officials as a “fourth referee” on the sideline, though they can’t be used as assistants like Back, Díaz Medina and Nesbitt.

In the end, Yamashita wants the players and the sport itself to shine more than the officials.

“One of the big goals as a referee is to bring out the attractiveness of soccer,” she told The Associated Press. “I [will] do my best for that, and I will do what I should at that time toward that end. So if I need to communicate with the players, I will do that. If I need to show a card, I will show a card. Rather than control, I’m thinking about what to do toward the big goal of bringing out the appeal of soccer.”

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