When an umpire generates column inches, it is normally an indictment of their performance; the result of an uproar following a controversial decision.
But Stéphanie Frappart’s traditional anonymity has been broken for another reason: she will make history on Thursday as the first woman to referee a men’s World Cup match.
Alongside assistants Neuza Back of Brazil and Karen Diaz of Mexico, the Frenchwoman will be part of an all-female referee trio that will face Costa Rica vs. Germany leads in their Group E match.
Six female match officials attended this World Cup – referees Frappart, Salima Mukansanga from Rwanda and Yoshimi Yamashita from Japan, as well as assistant referees Back, Diaz and Kathryn Nesbitt from the US.
FIFA announced their appointment in May, when Frappart found out she would be going to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
“It’s a surprise, you can’t believe it and after two or three minutes you realize you’re going to the World Cup. It’s great, not only for me, but also for my family and also for the French referees,” she told CNN Sport.
Throughout her career, Frappart has achieved a seemingly endless string of firsts.
In 2019, she became the first female referee to take charge of a Ligue 1 match, in August 2019 the first to take charge of a major men’s European match and in 2020 the first to officiate a UEFA Champions League match for gentlemen.
“I knew my life changed after 2019 because most people recognized me on the street,” Frappart recalls.
“So I’m like a role model, for female referees, but I think so [also] inspired some women in society or in companies to take more and more responsibility.”
Already at this World Cup, Frappart was the fourth official twice – he became the first female official at a World Cup match for men in Mexico against Poland. Mukasanga and Yamashita were also the fourth officials in two and four matches of this World Cup respectively.
But there is a clear tension between these historic moments for gender equality in football and where they take place, as women’s rights are severely restricted in Qatar.
According to Amnesty International, women in Qatar remain bound by a male guardian – usually their father, brother, grandfather, uncle or husband – and need their consent for important decisions, such as getting married, accessing reproductive health care and working in many government jobs.
CNN has reached out to the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) for comment, but had not received a response at time of publication.
“I was often in Qatar … for the preparation of the World Cup, I was always received in a good way. I don’t know what life is like there, but I didn’t make the decision to go there or host the World Cup,” says Frappart.
“So now, 10 years later, it’s hard to say anything, but I hope this World Cup will improve the lives of women there.”
At the World Cup, on the largest football stage, the pressure of refereeing a match is greatest.
A referee can make 245 decisions in one game, Sky Sports estimates, and if there’s just one mistake, it’s analyzed in microscopic detail.
It can change the course of a match, or even a team’s World Cup – denying it a title or preventing it from advancing in the tournament.
“If you make a mistake it’s more important than if a player makes a mistake – there are more consequences for the teams,” says Frappart. “It’s also easy to say it’s the referee’s fault and not our team’s fault, so if you lose.”
As umpires work their way up to the top echelons of the game, this pressure changes.
“It comes more from the media and [about] the money because you know that every decision is important and will make a difference to the team,” says Frappart. “But when you start in the local clubs, it’s more difficult with the spectators and the environment.”
Inevitably, female umpires will also come under heavy scrutiny as they straddle two traditionally male-dominated areas: football and leadership.
“There were a lot of questions about whether she’s there because she’s a woman, maybe she won’t follow the game and stuff,” Frappart recalled when she made her Ligue 1 debut.
“It’s not just in football, but I think in any job as a woman you have to prove you have the quality and then they let you continue.”
But as Frappart refereed more matches, attitudes towards her changed.
“Now, it’s not a matter of gender. It’s just a question about steel now, [about] competencies. So now it’s okay, after one or two games they left me alone and with no more media around.”
When Frappart first started playing football in 1993 at the age of ten, women’s football was hardly registered as a major milestone in the sports landscape.
The first edition of the Women’s World Cup had only been held two years earlier, with great success in China, but there was neither a Women’s Champions League in Europe nor a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in the US and professional female referees were not present. – existing.
It wasn’t until 2017, when Bibiana Steinhaus took charge of a Bundesliga match, that a woman captained a top-level match in the men’s league.
Frappart’s appointment as a referee at a men’s World Cup is another step forward in a “very sexist sport,” Costa Rica manager Luis Fernando said, according to Reuters.
“It’s very difficult to get to the point she’s reached, I think it’s good for football and a positive step for football, to show that it’s opening up to everyone,” he added.
Similarly, Mukansanga recalls never seeing a female referee in Rwanda to use as a role model for her own aspirations.
“I worked hard and followed the men’s dreams because they were the people around me,” she tells CNN Sport.
‘They are all men. We had one World Cup referee here in Rwanda who went to the World Cup twice, so he inspired me a lot and I kept working hard to be like him.”
With female referees and the broadcasting of the World Cup matches in Qatar to a large audience worldwide, Frappart hopes it will encourage more women to referee.
This change is already starting to take place – in the UK alone there was a 72% increase in qualified female referees between 2016 and 2020, according to the FA.
“So if you have more referees on TV, maybe it will be easier for women to say, ‘Okay, this is possible. Because if you don’t know if it’s possible for us, you can’t say, ‘Okay, I want to be a referee. ‘”