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Female officials making big strides in the men's game

Stéphanie Frappart made UEFA Champions League history when she became the first woman to referee a match, but she is far from the only female official breaking down barriers.

 Stéphanie Frappart refereed the UEFA Champions League match between Juventus and Dynamo Kyiv on 2 December
Stéphanie Frappart refereed the UEFA Champions League match between Juventus and Dynamo Kyiv on 2 December Getty Images

Stéphanie Frappart made UEFA Champions League history earlier this month when she became the first woman to referee a match in the competition, taking the whistle as Juventus beat Dynamo Kyiv in Turin on Matchday 5.

The appointment attracted headlines around the world. For UEFA, it was business as usual with an appointment based on Frappart’s reputation as one of Europe's top referees.

Frappart, who had attracted similar attention in 2019 by officiating at the UEFA Super Cup in Istanbul, is far from the only female official operating regularly in the men's game.

Referee Kateryna Monzul and her assistants Maryna Striletska and Oleksandra Ardasheva
Referee Kateryna Monzul and her assistants Maryna Striletska and Oleksandra Ardasheva UEFA via Getty Images

Similar to Frappart, Ukraine's Kateryna Monzul has refereed in the UEFA Nations League and the UEFA Europa League group stage this season. Monzul's Gent-Liberec assignment on 3 December was the first UEFA men's fixture at which a female official was flanked by two female assistants – Oleksandra Ardasheva and Maryna Striletska.

A successful approach

"Appointments are made on merit and these women deserve praise for their hard work and dedication that has brought them to this level," says UEFA chief of refereeing Roberto Rosetti.

"The appointments of female officials in the men's competitions should not come as a surprise any more – UEFA has worked hard in recent years to develop male and female referees across Europe equally and what we are seeing now is evidence that this approach is working."

Women at the highest level

Indeed, aside from those in the middle, more and more female assistants are gaining experience at the highest level of men's football.

Greece's Chrysoula Kourompylia, an assistant referee, has been a regular appointee at UEFA men's matches since 2014/15, England's Sian Maassey-Ellis has assisted in both the Europa League and the Nations League since 2019, with Spain's Guadalupe Porras Ayuso following in her path this season.

Germany’s Bibiana Steinhaus, who this year retired from a career that included officiating in the Bundesliga, now regularly fulfils Champions League VAR duties, assisting the recent group matches.

Irina Velikanova and Tatiana Boltneva on the futsal court
Irina Velikanova and Tatiana Boltneva on the futsal court

On the futsal court, history was made recently when Russia's Irina Velikanova and Tatiana Boltneva took charge of the UEFA Futsal Champions League match between United Galati and Dolphins Ashdod – the first female pairing of referees in UEFA men's futsal history.

How UEFA develops female officials throughout Europe

Such impressive progress in ensuring equal opportunities for referees, regardless of gender, is no accident. It is the product of a long-term UEFA strategy, that started after Nicole Petignat became the first woman to referee a UEFA men's game – as long ago as 2003 – when she oversaw a UEFA Cup preliminary round match between Sweden's AIK and Iceland's Fylkir.

Since 2013, female officials have joined their male counterparts at UEFA's summer and winter refereeing courses, bringing together the elite lists of referees, as well as newcomers to the FIFA international list, first to prepare for the season ahead and then to analyse progress at its halfway point. The courses entail fitness tests, education and instructional sessions aimed at helping them prepare further for elite-level action.

"We’re delighted with how Europe’s top male and female referees have responded to the challenge," Rosetti says. "They are unbelievably professional in their preparation – their attention to their condition and health is extremely meticulous. Over the years, with our help, their fitness levels have developed to the stage where they are now as much high-performance athletes as the players are. They know what they have to do – they’re ready for the coming matches. We’re very proud of them."

CORE mission

Nicole Petignat was the first woman to referee a UEFA men's game back in 2003
Nicole Petignat was the first woman to referee a UEFA men's game back in 2003Icon Sport via Getty Images

The UEFA Centre of Refereeing Excellence (CORE) is another important aid for young referees. In two-year cycles, UEFA member associations are invited to send one young referee and two assistants on a ten-day introductory session, followed by an eight-day consolidation course with the opportunity to get additional experience by refereeing matches in Switzerland and France.

Each CORE course involves eight referee trios who work closely with four referee coaches, two assistant referee coaches and two fitness coaches. The introductory segment focuses on learning, while the subsequent consolidation course looks at the progress made, and targets achieved, by the officials in their refereeing, fitness and English-language learning. The referees are in regular contact with their coaches between the introductory and consolidation courses.