Referees Stephanie Frappart from France, Salima Mukansanga from Rwanda and Yoshimi Yamashita from Japan – as well as assistant referees Neuza Back from Brazil, Karen Diaz Medina from Mexico and Kathryn Nesbitt from the USA – represent a cadre of female referees breaking through to the elite men’s level.
The 36 referees, 69 assistant referees and 24 video match officials (VMOs) chosen to go to Qatar represent the highest level of refereeing worldwide.
The appointment of female match officials to Qatar 2022 has been achieved thanks to a long-term plan. This involved their appointment to men’s junior and senior Fifa tournaments in preparation for the world’s most important tournament.
Like their male counterparts, they have been closely tracked over several years by Fifa, through the work of Massimo Busacca, Fifa’s director of refereeing, and his team of instructors.
In 2019, the Fifa referees committee, chaired by Pierluigi Collina, selected a longlist of teams of match officials. Their performances in their domestic leagues, continental tournaments and international games were carefully monitored. They have completed fitness tests on a regular basis and have been monitored and supported by sports scientists, sports psychologists and nutritionists.
During Qatar 2022, all referees will be expected to deliver first-class performances. The 2018 World Cup was considered by many to be the best on record in terms of the standards of officiating. Referees operated in a consistent manner, applying the laws of the game correctly. We witnessed the introduction and successful operation of the video assistant referee (VAR), with several leagues around the world going on to introduce it.
Qatar 2022 will also see the introduction of new technology to complement VAR. New limb and ball-tracking data applies artificial intelligence to provide an automated offside alert to VAR officials inside the video operation room, whenever the ball is received by an attacker who was in an offside position when the ball was played.
The introduction of this kind of cutting-edge technology will reduce errors in decision-making and enhance the quality and speed of matches, creating a positive legacy for the future.
Refereeing at a major tournament such as a World Cup requires referees to base themselves in the country for several weeks. This World Cup will be the first in the Middle East, and will provide a fascinating experience for officials. The proximity of the eight venues in Qatar where matches will be played will save referees time spent travelling, and thus give them more time to relax, recuperate and immerse themselves in the local culture.
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When the referees arrive at their hotel in Qatar, they will go through medical checks and Fifa fitness tests, and will attend regular meetings. The Fifa team will revisit decisions taken during the tournament, such as foul challenges, handball and offside to ensure that match officials know what is expected of them. Each one will have the ambition of officiating the World Cup final – and competition is fierce.
On the days leading up to the start of the competition, those selected for the first-round games will have been handed envelopes with the matches they have been appointed to and detailed plans that give minute-by-minute countdowns to the start of the games. They are driven to their games with police escorts, and I can tell you from my own experiences that some of the police drivers act like F1 drivers!
Every referee is expected to deliver top-class performances, without exception. Poor performance often sees the officials on the next flight home. When the competition gets close to the quarter and semi-finals, they will be brought into a meeting and, at that point, a cull of officials takes place and those not appointed must pack their bags.
Referees, like players, will be hoping to be selected for the biggest games and stay in Qatar as long as possible. It would be fantastic to see one of the female referees officiate the most-watched games in the world. This would create a powerful symbol that will inspire and empower girls and women all over the world.
Keith Hackett is a former Fifa international referee and head of referees in the Premier League