World Cup: France’s Stephanie Frappart leads first all-woman refereeing team

DOHA – Some 92 years after the first World Cup game was held in Uruguay, Stephanie Frappart became the first woman to be the lead referee during a men’s match at the tournament.

The 38-year-old worked with assistants Neuza Back of Brazil and Karen Diaz Medina of Mexico – an all-woman refereeing crew – during the decisive group-stage game between Costa Rica and Germany at the Al Bayt Stadium on Thursday, which Germany won 4-2.

It was a barrier-breaking moment that both coaches welcomed and suggested was overdue.

“I trust her 100 per cent,” Germany’s coach, Hansi Flick, said of Frappart’s appointment. “I think she deserves to be here due to her performance and achievements.”

Costa Rica’s manager, Luis Fernando Suarez, said the same during his pre-match news conference.

“I am a great admirer of everything women have conquered,” he said. “And I like that they want to keep conquering things. And this is another step forward, especially in this sport, which is a very macho.”

Frappart told French reporters she considered her selection as lead referee “a surprise”.

Still, she has had a stellar career for nearly two decades.

She played football between the age of 10 and 13 in Herblay-sur-Seine before changing path to become a referee.

“I saw Steph run around the stadium, 12km, two or three times a week to be at the level she is at now on the field,” Philippe Calve, the former president of FC Herblay-sur-Seine, told Reuters in a Paris cafe on Thursday.

“If you want to referee men’s matches, you’d better be at your best on a physical level. And she has done what she needs to be physically on the top.”

A native of Le Plessis-Bouchard, a remote town in the far north of the Paris region, she officiated her first game in 2003 at age 19 – a women’s match between the Henin-Beaumont FC and La Roche-sur-Yon. Within two decades, she was overseeing a women’s World Cup final.

Since then, she has climbed the ladder like no woman before her, racking up accolades. In 2014, she became the first woman to be lead referee during a men’s Ligue 2 game, in France’s second division. She then refereed games in men’s Ligue 1, during international friendlies and in the Champions League.

On Aug 14, 2019, Frappart became the first woman to referee the Uefa Super Cup between Chelsea and Liverpool. After the game, Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool coach, praised her performance.

“If we would have played like they whistled, then we would have won 6-0,” he said.

Frappart also refereed the women’s World Cup final in 2019, when the United States beat the Netherlands to cap a tournament that was a major public forum for the US team’s fight for equal pay and treatment from its national federation.

Last year, she became the first woman to take charge of a men’s World Cup qualifying match.

Pierluigi Collina, chair of the Fifa referees’ committee who is known for being tough on colleagues, has high praise for Frappart.

“I hope that there will be more Frapparts in the future and that this will no longer constitute an oddity or news story,” Collina told the Italian press in 2021.

At the Globe Soccer Awards in 2019, Frappart won an award as best referee and Collina handed her the trophy.

Frappart told French reporters that she was “aware” that her presence in the tournament is “going to inspire”. But she would prefer to let her whistle do the talking.

“I don’t want to be judged differently because of my gender but because of my refereeing skills,” she said.

In Qatar, Frappart had already officiated as fourth referee for two matches during the group phase, when Mexico faced Poland and Portugal played Ghana.

“This was the last item on the list of things she could do, she has been beating every record from the beginning. She works hard. She had this goal of going to the men’s World Cup and she made it thanks to her qualities and her work,” Calve added of her outing on Thursday.

“We are very proud.” NYTIMES, REUTERS

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