It may well be the world championship of violated rights, but it is about to give us an absolute first in the history of football precisely by expanding and deepening the global value of football, beyond any barrier of gender and identity; perhaps the result, this absolute premiere, of the political shrewdness of Fifa, which exhibits its most beautiful emblem right on the Qatari playing fields; perhaps instead pure and simple logical consequence of a talent – the one for whistle and cards – which has few equals even in the men’s field. In short, the right percentages of the cocktail just described can be identified at your convenience: the fact is that Stephanie Frappart will direct today Germany-Costa Rica, the first woman to referee at the World Cup, moreover in a decisive challenge for qualifying for the round of 16. Frappart will be assisted by two other women, the Brazilian Neuza Back and the Mexican Karen Diaz Medina, while the fourth official will be the Honduran Said Martinez.
Ninety-two years, 22 editions. It took that long to see a woman boo at a world championship. Moreover. Just the most discussed (and questionable) world cup of women’s whistles brings together three (out of 36 called up): in addition to Frappart, in fact, here is the Rwandan Salima Mukansanga (first referee in the African Cup) and the Japanese Yoshimi Yamashita (first to direct matches of the Champions of Asia). To complete the team, then, also three linesmen: the Brazilian Neuza Back, the Mexican Karen Diaz Medina and the American Kathryn Nesbitt. Such a large and assorted team that the choice of the Fifa match official manager, Pierluigi Collina (at the time – it is worth remembering – a champion of refereeing, who also directed the 2002 world final won by Ronaldo’s Brazil on Phenomenon on Germany) cannot be considered casual, with the clear intention of wanting to launch a universal and explicit message to a world perched from its origins in its male-dominated conservatism.
Of course then that when you happen to have a natural talent like that of Stephanie Frappart at your disposal, all the choices become easier. She is 38 years old from Val-d’Oise, north of Paris, she played football before choosing refereeing at the age of 18 (which she had already started practicing at the age of 13). From then on, her rise was overwhelming and unstoppable: she was the first woman to direct an international match (the Super Cup between Liverpool and Chelsea on 14 August 2019); first whistle in the Champions League (in Juventus’ 3-0 win against Dinamo Kiev, on 2 December 2022 in Turin); first, in March 2021, she refereed a match valid for World Cup qualifiers (Netherlands-Latvia), until last May when – needless to say, first woman in history – she refereed the French Cup final. In short, a predestined and at the same time an example which many girls in the world will be able to inspire from today, who, like her, will imagine themselves with a whistle in one hand and yellow and red signs in the other, ready to referee on the most prestigious stage of global football.
And speaking of examples, Frappart is only the latest link in a chain that has had several high-level ‘pioneers’, who prepared the ground for the transalpine match official (without forgetting that in other realities, such as NBA basketball , referees have been customary for several seasons now). In football, certainly the best known is Bibiana Steinhaus, a 43-year-old German who recently retired (in life off the field she is a police officer in Lower Saxony), who between 2017 and 2020 refereed (also) in the men’s Bundesliga, closing career managing the German Super Cup between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. And in Italy? The point of reference is Maria Sole Ferrieri Caputi, from Livorno born in 1990: after the inevitable apprenticeship, this year her debut in men’s Serie A arrived, on 2 October last, in the match between Sassuolo and Salernitana won by 5 to 0 from the Emilians. Historical matches and whistles in their own way, which Stephanie Frappart will perhaps think of today, whistling the kick-off of the match between the Germans and the Costa Ricans.