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The woman referee that wrote history at Qatar 2022: Role model Frappart wins hearts and minds with resilience

As soon as the first whistle of the game between Germany and Costa Rica, in the group phase of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, was blown, history was made in the world football flagship competition.

Stéphanie Frappart became the first woman to ever referee a game at the FIFA World Cup, with this match fulfilling every expectation she had when starting the career. It was a long way here, but not one stage was burnt, with the hard work put in delivering a huge satisfaction from a personal standpoint and a huge talking point for the future of football.

It has taken 92 years, nearly 1000 matches and a total change of direction and perspective in the football world, but here we were, with Frappart being in charge on the pitch in a do-or-die clash, where both teams had to win to extend their stay in Qatar. Eventually, neither Germany, nor Costa Rica progressed to the Round of 16, after the European side won the game, 4-2, but Japan defeated Spain, 2-1.

However, with Frappart at the centre and Neuza Back of Brazil and Mexico’s Karen Díaz Medina as the assistants, and the fourth official, Saíd Martínez of Honduras, the first-ever women line-up of referees duly delivered a great game, which was definitely not easy to referee.

It was a tectonic movement, an unprecedented shift, as only 20 years ago, it would have been almost preposterous to only imagine that this will going to happen at the FIFA World Cup.

But at Qatar 2022, changes really happen and FIFA was much obliged to see Frappart referee a top game, reaching the pinnacle of her career, after having already set some milestones in her career, which started at the age of 13 years old.

“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.

But how did Frappart seal her chance and how did she get here? These are questions that were on everybody’s lips, just after she was nominated for the FIFA World Cup, with clear chances of refereeing a game in the competition.

Frappart’s first memories as a referee are at 13 years old, small-sided games for children near where she grew up in Herblay-sur-Seine, north-west of Paris. Her passion for football came from her father, who played amateur football. She immediately fell in love with the game, but not as a player.

She was always fascinated by the referees, how they could hold the game in a manner that would not create problems. After enrolling in a course to learn the laws of the game, she became a referee. In parallel, she was also playing football in a local team.

But at 18 years old, when she went to a university, where she also studied sport, she had to make a choice. It was either playing, or refereeing. Due to the women’s football not being so popular in France, with few prospects of becoming a player, she quit the playing career and went all in as a referee.

It proved to be a life-changing decision and the best choice she ever made in her life. In less than 20 years, Frappart not only became the top women referee in France, but also maybe in the world.

In 2011, she was already whistling men’s games in the Championnat National, the third French league. Three years later, she got her first game in Ligue 2, the French second league. In 2019, she became the first woman promoted to the referee roster for Ligue 1 and made her debut in a game between Amiens and Strasbourg.

History was made and her star shone brighter and brighter, as she was at the centre of the 2019 UEFA Super Cup between Liverpool and Chelsea men’s teams in Istanbul, leading an all-female refereeing team as Liverpool triumphed on penalties after a 2-2 draw.

“We are more in the spotlight now. But I have always promoted the idea that we should be notable by our achievements and not by our gender.”

“I’m not tall. I’m not as strong as some of my male colleagues,” she said. “But I’ll still make myself heard anyway,” said Frappart, according to the FIFA website.

Her experience is next to none, having also been the first woman to referee an UEFA Champions League game in 2020, the first woman to lead an international game in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers between Netherlands and Latvia in 2021 and also the FIFA Women’s World Cup final in 2019.

“There were many questions involved if she’s there because she’s a woman, perhaps she will not follow the game and everything. It’s not only in football, but I think in every job when you’re a woman, you need to prove that you have the quality and after that they let you continue. Now, it’s not a question of gender. It’s now only a question about steel, [about] competencies. So now it’s ok, after one or two games, they left me alone and without any more media around,” added the French referee.

But did something change for her?

“I knew that my life changed after 2019 because most people recognized me in the street. So I am like a role model, for women referees but I think it [also] inspired some women in society or in companies to take more and more responsibility,” Frappart told CNN.

With so many premieres in her career in men’s football, Frappart is definitely a trailblazer and will set a path that many will follow. Because she just proved that anything is possible, provided one has the right mindset, the right desire and talent.

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