Men’s World Cup set to include female referees for first time

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For the first time in its 92-year history, the men’s World Cup could have some matches officiated by women. FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, announced Thursday that its field of 129 referees and video match officials for this year’s event in Qatar will include six women.

“This concludes a long process that began several years ago with the deployment of female referees at FIFA men’s junior and senior tournaments,” Pierluigi Collina, the chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee, said in a statement. “In this way, we clearly emphasize that it is quality that counts for us and not gender.”

France’s Stéphanie Frappart, Rwanda’s Salima Mukansanga and Japan’s Yoshimi Yamashita are on the list of 36 referees. The three women listed among the 69 tabbed for assistant referee duties are Brazil’s Neuza Back, Mexico’s Karen Díaz Medina and Kathryn Nesbitt from the United States. FIFA’s slate of 24 video officials did not include any women.

It’s not a certainty that all of the women will work matches in Qatar. The 129 candidates must go through a final vetting process in the lead-up to the World Cup, which starts Nov. 21.

“Each match official will be carefully monitored in the next few months with a final assessment on technical, physical and medical aspects to be made shortly before the World Cup,” FIFA Director of Refereeing Massimo Busacca said in a statement, “in order to have them in the best conditions when the ball starts rolling in Qatar.”

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“We are announcing these selections well in advance as we want to work even harder with all those who have been appointed for the FIFA World Cup, monitoring them in the next few months,” Collina said. “The message is clear: Don’t rest on your laurels, keep working hard and prepare yourselves very seriously for the World Cup.”

The 2020 MLS assistant referee of the year, Nesbitt became the first woman to officiate on the field in a Concacaf qualifying match for the men’s World Cup when she worked a March 2021 game between Canada and Bermuda in Orlando. She also was an assistant referee and a video official during the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, having left a position as an assistant professor of chemistry at Towson University to focus on that tournament and her future as a referee.

“It has been an absolute honor to have people say that I’ve become a role model for women,” Nesbitt said last year

Frappart also officiated at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, including as the match referee for the final, won by the United States over the Netherlands. Frappart became the first female referee in Ligue 1, France’s top men’s professional league, and she led a Predominantly female officiating crew for the 2019 UEFA Super Cup final between Liverpool and Chelsea. In April, she became the first woman to referee the men’s French Cup final, one month after she made history by serving as match referee for a World Cup qualifying contest between Latvia and the Netherlands in Amsterdam.

“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,” Collina said Thursday. “They deserve to be at the FIFA World Cup because they constantly perform at a really high level, and that’s the important factor for us.”

Other assistant referees from the United States in the World Cup pool are Kyle Atkins and Corey Parker. American Ismail Elfath, the 2020 MLS referee of the year, is on the referee list for Qatar, and countryman Armando Villarreal is set to be a video official.

Also named among the referees was Zambia’s Janny Sikazwe, who created headlines in January when he whistled twice for full time before 90 minutes had elapsed, with added time also expected, in an Africa Cup of Nations match in Cameroon. Coaches from Tunisia, which was losing to Mali in the match, confronted Sikazwe and later refused to bring their side back onto the pitch when tournament organizers ordered that the game be restarted so the final moments could take place.

sikazwe said after the match that he was “lucky I didn’t go into a coma” amid sweltering conditions that day.

“I think God told me to end the match,” Sikazwe reportedly added. “He saved me.”

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