The sight of a female referee at the center of a soccer field still feels somewhat strange.
The road a female referee must walk to progress and establish herself in the patriarchal world of soccer is riddled with obstacles and challenges that make her journey all the more difficult.
The history of women’s soccer spans back decades, and despite its highs and lows, the beautiful game has managed to garner high popularity among people worldwide, despite the notable disparity in the number of spectators watching women’s games.
However, it is a fact that some of the world’s most prominent female referees in soccer emerged precisely from the heart of these difficulties.
These women have demonstrated their exceptional abilities and skillsets, breaking through the gender barriers and prejudices that had previously held back women in the game.
Today, they stand as shining examples of perseverance and determination, inspiring young girls everywhere to follow in their footsteps and pursue their passions without fear of judgment or discrimination.
10 Of The Top Female Referees In Soccer
More women are entering the profession now than ever before, with an increasing number of female officials now officiating in today’s games.
In England alone, the number of female referees has risen by an impressive 72% since 2016, with over 2000 women currently officiating at all levels of the game under the guidance of the FA.
Recognizing the significance of women’s soccer on a global scale, this article aims to shine a spotlight on the 10 most exceptional female referees in soccer history.
Meet the ladies who’ve earned their stripes and made their mark in the beautiful game.
Stéphanie Frappart (France)
Frappart is a renowned female referee and the first-ever female official to take charge of a Champions League match.
The announcement made by the European Football Association regarding the appointment of a female referee for the Juventus vs Dynamo Kyiv fixture on 2 December 2020 was a pleasant surprise, stirring up excitement and anticipation among soccer fans worldwide.
In 2011, she became the referee for Championnat National, the third division of men’s football in France, and later in 2019, she made history by becoming the first female referee in Ligue 1.
Frappart’s professional success continued to soar, as she was included in FIFA’s referee list for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
She created history by being appointed as the referee for the 2019 UEFA Super Cup between Liverpool and Chelsea, making her the first female referee to officiate in a major men’s European match.
Her reputation continued to grow, and in May 2022, she was selected for the officiating pool at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
On 1 December 2022, she became the first woman to officiate a men’s FIFA World Cup match when she officiate the game between Costa Rica and Germany.
Frappart’s expertise and contributions to soccer have been recognized globally, as she has been awarded the IFFHS World’s Best Woman Referee title for three consecutive years (2019, 2020, 2021).
With her achievements, Frappart serves as an inspiration and a role model to women all around the world who aspire to break barriers and succeed in male-dominated fields.
Bibiana Steinhaus – Webb (Germany)
Bibiana Steinhaus is an esteemed female soccer referee from one of the oldest generations of women referees who broke barriers in officiating men’s games.
Before pursuing her career as a referee like her father, she briefly played football for SV Bad Lauterberg.
She then took a course as a referee and quickly rose through the ranks, becoming an official match referee in the Regionalliga by 2001. In 2007, she became the first female referee to officiate in a men’s professional league match.
She continued her remarkable journey, and in the 2017/2018 season, she made history as the first female referee in the Bundesliga, though she had served as an assistant referee long before then.
She retired from refereeing in 2020 after handling games in several high-profile tournaments such as the 2008 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, UEFA Women’s Euro 2009, and 2010 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.
Despite her impressive career, Steinhaus has faced several challenges, including a physical confrontation with then-Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola during a match in 2014.
Another scenario was In 2010 when a player unintentionally groped her breast, which exemplifies how male players do not normally welcome female referees, let alone receive a card from them.
For instance, after receiving his second yellow card from Steinhaus, Fortuna Düsseldorf’s Kerem Demirbay made a sexist comment towards her, leading to his suspension for five matches by the club.
Despite these difficulties, Steinhaus has become one of the best female soccer referees, and it’s not hard to see why. She’s even a trained police officer with the rank of Chief Inspector, adding to her impressive resume.
IFFHS World’s Best Woman Referee recognized Steinhaus’s outstanding performances by awarding her the title five times: in 2013, 2014, 2017, and 2018, and IFFHS World’s Best Woman Referee of the Decade 2011-2020.
Claudia Umpiérrez (Uruguay)
In 2009, Claudia Umpiérrez was approved as a FIFA international referee, and she has worked in FIFA international competitions since 2010.
The 40-year-old was promoted to the first-category referee in Uruguay in 2016, making her the first woman to officiate in the country’s first division.
Before her promotion, Umpiérrez was already performing exceptionally well, and her scores surpassed those of her male colleagues, which led to her promotion from the third to the second category by the Referees’ Association of Uruguay.
Her debut at the international level was on 31 January 2010, when she refereed the match between Brazil and Bolivia.
On 6 February, she officiated the last match of Group A between Paraguay and Bolivia. Due to her excellent performance, she was selected to be the referee of the third-place match, which took place on 11 February in São Paulo, between Paraguay and Venezuela.
In March 2010, she made history as the designated referee of a Third Division match between Peñarol and Defensor Sporting at the Estadio Centenario.
She was also invited to officiate the South American U-17 Women’s Championship that same year.
Her performance was remarkable, leading to her inclusion in the yearly list of the best referees in the world by IFFHS in both 2015 and 2016, ranking 10th and 11th respectively.
Umpiérrez was named the Exceptional Sportsman of the Departmental Board of Montevideo in 2016. Her contribution to football has been enormous, breaking barriers and paving the way for other women to follow in her footsteps.
Kateryna Monzul (Ukraine)
The 41-year-old has established herself as one of the most successful female referees in recent times.
Her journey began in September 2005, when she officiated her first international match between Finland and Poland during the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifiers.
Monzul’s officiating prowess became more evident as she was appointed to officiate in the UEFA Women’s Euro 2009.
She then served as the fourth official in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and in the 2013 UEFA Women’s Euro semifinal match between Norway and Denmark, she officiate her first performance in a major nations tournament’s final stages.
However, it was in 2015 that Monzul’s career reached new heights.
She was appointed as the main referee for the opening match of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which was hosted by Canada.
Although she awarded a controversial injury-time penalty kick to the hosts, resulting in a 1-0 victory over China, Monzul went on to officiate the final between the United States and Japan.
The Ukrainian has been breaking barriers in soccer officiating.
On April 3, 2016, she became the first female referee in the elite men’s Ukrainian football division, officiating a match between Chornomorets Odesa and Volyn Lutsk in the Ukrainian Premier League.
This new height was added to her growing list of success in soccer.
Monzul’s excellent performances on the pitch have earned her several accolades. In 2014, she was ranked second in IFFHS- World’s Best Woman Referee poll, just behind Bibiana Steinhaus.
She was also named the Best Arbiter of the Ukrainian Premier League for the 2019-20 season.
Rita Gani (Malaysia)
Rita Gani, a corporal in the Royal Malaysia Police Force, didn’t start her career as a referee. In fact, she spent years as a police officer before making her way into the world of soccer officiating.
In 2004, she began officiating soccer matches, and by 2006 she had made it onto the FIFA international list of referees.
In 2014, Gani made history when she was voted the AFC Woman Referee of the Year, after officiating six matches in the 2014 AFC Women’s Asian Cup in Vietnam, including the semi-final between Australia and South Korea.
Gani’s refereeing skills earned her the Asia Best Female Referee Award in 2014, which was held in the Philippines. She beat out last year’s winner, Sachiko Yamagishi of Japan, and candidates from Thailand, including Pannipar Kamnueng.
During the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Gani took charge of the Group C match between Switzerland and Ecuador on 12 June 2015, alongside fellow Malaysian Widiya Shamsuri.
Gani’s dedication to her profession is admirable, especially considering her background in law enforcement.
She is an inspiration to many, and her accomplishments prove that hard work and determination can take you anywhere.
Wendy Toms (England)
A pioneer in women’s soccer refereeing, Wendy Toms is a former English soccer referee who made history by officiating in the Football League and later, the Premier League as an assistant referee.
Her success includes being the first female to serve for FIFA on the women’s international list.
The 60-year-old was the first woman to ever be included on the list of Football League assistant referees during the 1994-95 season.
Two years later, she made another breakthrough by becoming a referee in the Football Conference.
Toms created yet another precedent when she took charge of her first Conference match as referee between Kidderminster and Nuneaton Borough.
In less than a year after her Conference debut, she was appointed as an assistant referee in the Premier League, once again becoming the first female ever to do so.
Despite facing challenges and obstacles, she persevered and progressed through the ranks, achieving successes that were once unimaginable for a woman in her field.
Throughout her career, Toms demonstrated exceptional skill and knowledge in refereeing and paved the way for other women to follow in her footsteps.
Her legacy continues to inspire young women around the world to pursue their dreams in soccer refereeing.
Amy Fearn (England)
Amy Elizabeth Fearn is a respected referee who hails from England.
Her professional journey began at the tender age of 14 when she took up football refereeing alongside pursuing her economics degree and a full-time career in accountancy.
Fearn is a trailblazer in English professional football, having shattered the gender barrier and emerged as only the second woman to assume the role of an assistant referee. The feat was only surpassed by Wendy Toms, a renowned soccer referee who paved the way for women’s representation in the sport.
However, Fearn’s crowning moment arrived in 2010, when she etched her name in history by becoming the first woman to officiate as the main referee in a Football League match.
Her exceptional officiating skills, coupled with her unwavering commitment to the game, have earned her immense respect and admiration.
Nevertheless, Fearn’s journey to success was not without its fair share of challenges.
In November 2006, she was subjected to sexist remarks by Luton Town manager Mike Newell, who hurled verbal abuse at her during their game against Queens Park Rangers.
Newell’s unbecoming behavior and derogatory comments were a harsh reminder of the ingrained biases and obstacles that women referee face in men’s soccer.
Despite this setback, Fearn remained resolute in her pursuit of excellence and continues to inspire young girls to pursue their passion for refereeing
Her grit, determination, and exceptional officiating skills have cemented her legacy as a trailblazer and an inspiration to generations of women referees in Soccer.
Karen Diaz Medina (Mexico)
A highly experienced referee from South America made history as part of the all-female referee team that handled a game at the FIFA World Cup.
In 2019, Diaz, along with two other female referees, officiated the game between Costa Rica and Germany, marking a significant milestone for women in sports.
With seven years of experience in officiating matches in South America, Diaz’s journey to becoming a FIFA referee began in Mexico’s top-flight Liga MX in 2016.
She continued to hone her skills as a referee, and just two years later, she received her official badge, which is a prestigious recognition in the world of soccer refereeing.
At the age of 38, she is a highly respected figure, having demonstrated her exceptional abilities in officiating matches at both national and international levels.
Her presence as part of the all-female referee team at the FIFA World Cup serves as an inspiration for aspiring women referees around the world, showing that gender is no barrier to success in this challenging and exciting profession.
Sian Massey-Ellis (England)
Sian is a familiar name to avid fans of the Premier League, having served as an assistant referee for many years.
The 37-year-old referee is highly respected for her professionalism on the field.
She was added to the Premier League referee list in 2008, and one year later, she made the FIFA list.
Despite her vast experience, she has never been the center referee in a men’s match.
Regardless of that, she has overseen many other competitions, including the Women’s World Cup and its qualifiers, the Europa League, and the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
Sian was at the center of a sexism controversy that occurred after her second Premier League game, where she acted as an assistant referee in Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Wolves on 22 January 2011.
Sky Sports staff made remarks about Massey-Ellis, which led to the dismissal of commentator Andy Gray and presenter Richard Keys. Reporter Andy Burton was also suspended.
As a result of the controversy, She was withdrawn from her next appointment, which was a League 2 game between Crewe Alexandra and Bradford City on 25 January.
The Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOB) believed that the increased attention could detract from the match’s quality.
Robert Ellis, who is also a football referee, is Massey-Ellis’ husband.
Salima Mukansanga (Rwanda)
Salima Mukansanga is a renowned international football referee from Rwanda, who has been listed as an international referee for FIFA since 2012.
In 2019, she was selected as an official at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, a testament to her exceptional skills and dedication to the game.
Her unrivaled expertise earned her the privilege of becoming the first woman to referee at the African Cup of Nations in 2022, where she led an all-woman officiating team as the VAR.
The 35-year-old illustrious career has seen her officiate at some of the biggest events in soccer, including the Olympics, FIFA Women’s World Cup, Africa Women’s Cup of Nations, and CAF Women’s Champions League.
Her impressive portfolio of work was recently recognized when she was selected as one of three women referees to officiate at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in 2022.
Her exceptional officiating skills were on full display when she made history on 22 November 2022, becoming the first female African referee to officiate at the men’s top football event. She officiated as the fourth official during the match between France and Australia.
It is no surprise that Mukansanga was recognized as one of the BBC 100 Women in December 2022, a prestigious honor that acknowledges the remarkable achievements of women from around the world.
Her outstanding contributions to refereeing have inspired many young girls to follow in her footsteps and pursue their dreams.
- Nicole Petignat
- Yoshimi Yamashita
- Jawahir Roble
- Kathryn Nesbitt
- Neuza Back
- Fernanda Colombo
Final Whistle – Female Soccer Referees
Women referees are setting a remarkable example for the upcoming female whistle-blowers (pun intended).
They are breaking records and pushing women’s officiating to unparalleled levels. Hopefully, we will see a rise in women officiating in major leagues, and representing their nations at an international level.
It’s time for women to break the ceiling on this male-dominated system.