World Cup ’22: Meet the 1st African woman referee


Rwandan referee Salma Mukansanga has made history as the first woman to officiate at a men’s World Cup.

Mukasanga officiated in Qatar when defending champions France beat Australia 4-1 in Group D opener at Al Janoub Stadium in Al-Wakrah.

The Rwandan whistle-woman was among three female referees listed by FIFA among its 36 to officiate the men’s World Cup. The other two are Yamashita Yoshimi of Japan and Stephanie Frappart of France.

Mukusanga has broken new ground before as a female referee. She was the first female referee at the Women’s World Cup 2019 edition, and earlier this year, she became the first woman referee to officiate the African Cup of Nations as a centre referee.

In a press statement during the unveiling of the female referees, FIFA’s chief referee, Pierluigi Collina, justified FIFA’s decision to incorporate female officials, noting, “They are here not because they are women but because they are FIFA selected match officials.”

However, for Mukansanga, officiating the men’s World Cup is “very exciting, and it’s a privilege for me. I never dreamed of going to the Men’s World Cup,” she told

A nurse by profession, Mukusanga has been a FIFA referee since 2012, officiating international tournaments, including the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Born in Rusizi District in the Western Province of Rwanda, 34-year-old Mukansanga did not have an easy debut in refereeing.

Salima Rhadia Mukansanga, referee for the Zimbabwe -Guinea match of the 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations at the Amadou Ahidjo Omnisports Stadium. Photo: Etienne Mainimo

In an interview with bird story agency in January 2022 during the Africa Cup of Nations, Mukansanga explained how she got into refereeing, training in 2007 alongside four ladies in a camp with over 40 men.

“No other girl continued. It is a difficult thing because there were times when I was feeling discouraged,” she explained.

The dress code for female referees has been a challenge Mukansanga experienced, especially early in her career, with some religious decrees contending women referees from wearing the standard uniform.

Regardless, she defied all odds starting in the national football space after being certified by FIFA in 2012 before she took up international match officiation roles in 2014 during the Afcon qualifier match between Zambia and Tanzania.

More assignments traced her the following year with the All-Africa Cup of Nations Games held in Brazzaville and the 2015 Women’s CECAFA held in Jinja, where she was a key match official.

However, she shot to fame in 2016 during the Under-17 World Cup in Uruguay in 2018, where she officiated several matches, including Germany versus Canada.

The Rwandan woman hopes to be an inspiration to girls around the world, especially in Africa:
“I want young girls to look at me and follow me because I, too am here now because I took advice from people,” she said.

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