When referees produce post inches, it is usually some indictment of their performance; the result of an uproar following a controversial decision.
But Stéphanie Frappart’s traditional anonymity has been broken for different reasons – and she will make history on Thursday by becoming the first woman to referee a men’s World Cup match.
Along with assistant referees Neuza Back from Brazil and Karen Diaz from Mexico, the French referee will form part of an all-female trio for Costa Rica’s Group E match against Germany.
There are six female referees at the World Cup – referee Frappart, Rwanda’s Salima Mukansanga and Japan’s Yoshimi Yamashita, as well as assistant referees Barker, Diaz and Catherine Nesbitt of the United States .
FIFA announced their appointment in May, when Frapat learned she would be at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
“It was a surprise, you couldn’t believe it, and after two or three minutes, you realized you were going to the World Cup. It was fantastic, not only for me, but also for my family and 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 enforce a Ligue 1 match. In August 2019, she became the first female referee to enforce a men’s European match. In 2020, she became the first female referee to enforce a men’s Champions League match.
“I knew my life changed after 2019 because most people recognized me on the street,” recalls Frappart.
“So I’m like a role model, for female referees, but I think [also] Motivate some women in society or companies to take on more and more responsibilities. ”
Frappart has twice served as fourth official at this World Cup – becoming the first female official in Mexico’s men’s World Cup match against Poland. Mukasanga and Yamashita also served as fourth official in two and four games respectively in this World Cup.
But there is a palpable tension between these historic moments of gender equality in football and where they took place, amid severe restrictions on women’s rights in Qatar.
According to Amnesty International, in Qatar, women are still tied to male guardians – usually their father, brother, grandfather, uncle or husband – and need their permission to make important decisions such as marrying, obtaining reproductive health care and work in many government jobs.
CNN has reached out to the Supreme Council of Delivery and Heritage (SC) for comment but has not heard back by press time.
“I’ve been to Qatar many times… for the World Cup, I’ve always been very well received. I don’t know what life is like there, but I didn’t make the decision to go there or to organize the World Cup,” Frappart said.
“So now, 10 years later, it’s hard to say anything, but I hope … this World Cup will improve the lives of women there.”
On the biggest stage of football, the World Cup, the pressure on referees is the greatest.
Sky Sports estimates that a single referee may make 245 decisions in a match, and if only one is wrong, it will be analyzed in microscopic detail.
It could change the course of a game, or even a team’s World Cup – stripping it of its title or ensuring it doesn’t progress further in the Championship.
“When you make a mistake, it’s more important than a player making a mistake — it affects the team more,” Frappart said. “It’s also easy to say it’s the referee’s fault, not our team’s fault, so when you lose.”
That pressure has changed as referees have worked their way up to the top echelons of the game.
“More from the media and [about] Money, because you know every decision is important and has an impact on the team,” Frappart said. “But when you start with a local club, it becomes more difficult with the audience and the environment. ”
Inevitably, female referees also come under scrutiny because they straddle two traditionally male-dominated fields: football and leadership.
“If she was there because she was a woman, there would be a lot of problems, maybe she wouldn’t pay attention to the game and everything,” Frappart recalled on her Ligue 1 debut.
“It’s not just in football, but I think in every job when you’re a woman… you need to show you’re capable and then they’ll let you go on.”
But as Frappart officiated more games, attitudes toward her changed.
“Now, it’s not about gender. It’s about steel now, [about] ability. So now it’s okay, after a game or two, they leave me alone without any media around. ”
When Frappart first started playing soccer at the age of 10 in 1993, girls’ soccer had hardly been a major milestone in the sport.
The inaugural Women’s World Cup was held only two years ago and was a huge success in China, but there is neither a women’s champions league in Europe nor the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in the US, nor are professional female referees.
It wasn’t until 2017, when Bibiana Steinhaus took charge of the Bundesliga, that women officiated the top men’s league.
Costa Rica coach Luis Fernando said Frappart’s appointment as a men’s World Cup referee was another step forward for a “very sexist sport”, according to Reuters.
“It’s been very difficult to get to where she’s been and I think it’s good for football, it’s a positive step for football to show that it’s opening up to everyone,” he added.
Likewise, in Rwanda, Mukansanga recalls that she never met a female referee as a role model for her to fulfill her aspirations.
“I work hard and follow the dreams of men because they’re the ones around me,” she told CNN Sports.
“They’re all men. We have a World Cup referee in Rwanda who’s been to two World Cups, so he’s been a big inspiration to me and I’ve been working hard to be like him.”
With the advent of female referees and the World Cup in Qatar being broadcast to massive global audiences, Frappart hopes this will encourage more women to take up the whistle.
The change is already starting to happen – in the UK alone, there has been 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 makes it easier for women to say, okay, it’s possible. Because if you don’t know if it’s going to work for us, you can’t say: ‘Okay , I want to be a referee.’”