On 1 December, history was made at Qatar 2022, as the first-ever women trio entered the pitch to referee a game at the FIFA World Cup. France’s Stephanie Frappart was at the centre, with Brazil’s Neuza Back and Mexico’s Karen Diaz Medina fulfilling the duties as assistant referees for the game between Costa Rica and Germany, won by the European side, 4-2.
It was an outstanding achievement for all three refereeing trailblazers, half of the six women called up for the referee roster at Qatar 2022 in an unprecedented move by the FIFA Referee Commission.
“They were not selected because they are women, but as FIFA referees. They could officiate any game,” said Pierluigi Collina, the chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee, according to the official website of the competition.
While Frappart was surely at the centre of attention, Neuza Back also wrote her own page of history in the competition, as the first-ever South American woman to deliver justice in a game at the FIFA World Cup.
A long journey, which started over a decade ago for the 38-year-old assistant referee, was now completed, as Back had no problems in a fiery match, underlining once again the untapped potential of women referees in the game, even on the highest of stages.
Born in Saudade, in the municipality of Santa Catarina, Back was always a football afficionado, having featured as a player before transitioning to a refereeing career, after she got her degree in Physical Education in 2009.
Her excellent performances and understanding and interpretation of the rules made her one of the best assistant referees in the world, having already featured at two editions of the Olympic Games, first at Rio 2016, in Brazil, and then at Tokyo 2020, where she took part in the women’s tournament.
“It’s really exciting to be representing this group of women in Brazilian refereeing because what one does has an impact on the work of others. If I have this opportunity today, it’s because other professionals have pioneered this part of football. They left the doors open for me to continue on this journey,” said Back in an interview with the Brazilian Football Association.
Back is surely one of the best assistant referees in Brazil, having officiated over 100 games in the domestic first league, while also being present at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the 2020 FIFA Club World Cup, with her performances earning excellent reviews from the supervisors.
She was also the first woman to referee games at the FIFA Club World Cup and in the Copa Libertadores – the top international football competition in South America – with the next logical step being the men’s World Cup.
These excellent games only paved the way for the call-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, where she was one of the 129 referees that were officiating in the competition throughout the 64 matches played in the eight venues in the Middle Eastern country.
But first, when she got the news, she could not believe her ears and thought somebody was making a joke. In fact, when the nominations were made, she was refereeing the game between Nautico and CSA in the second Brazilian league.
After the game, she was asked by members of the media how does she feel and she sounded incredulous.
“It’s really cool, indescribable, it’s a moment, like, of joy, of gratitude and also a little sense of responsibility, because I’m the only woman I know I need to go there and represent all of us very well,” she said for Brazilian outlet Globo Esporte.
“When every referee enters the refereeing course, the dream is the World Cup. For me it was no different. Being a woman, it would be a little more difficult. All the choices, all the sensations crossed my mind”, added Back.
And now, there she was, after a 18-year refereeing career, ready to pounce and made the ultimate debut. Once the nerves were gone, Back did good and had no trouble in the match between Germany and Costa Rica. The history had been written.