“I had no role model,” said World Cup referee Stephanie Frappart. “I think everyone is unique, so you can’t base your personality on someone else. You have to grow up on your own. I’m not a man, I can’t follow one them.
Frappart is a precursor. Having already refereed in Ligue 1 and the Men’s Champions League, she now officiates at the Men’s World Cup, alongside two other female referees, Rwandan Salima Mukansanga and Japanese Yoshimi Yamashita. This is the first time that female referees have been selected for the men’s World Cup.
“The Men’s World Cup is the most important competition in the world, not just football,” she said. “But I was the first female referee in France, the first in Europe, the first each time. I know how to handle this. »
A few weeks before the start of the tournament, Frappart sat down with Athleticism to discuss being the first, behaving on the pitch and her feelings about human rights in Qatar.
His career spanned 25 years, but he could have easily stopped at the age of 18. She started refereeing five years ago, small children’s games near her home in Herblay-sur-Seine, northwest of Paris. .
The passion for the game comes from his father, an amateur player for the local team, whom Frappart watched every weekend. This prompted her to enroll in a course to learn the laws of the game. Then she started refereeing.
“I had been playing football on Saturdays and refereeing on Sundays since I was 13,” she explains. “By the time I got into college, studying sport, it was just too much sport.”
She had to choose between playing or pursuing a promising career as a referee, having previously officiated in the national under-19 league.
“At the time, women’s football was not particularly developed, so I decided to stop playing,” she says. “But I had no intention of being the first female World Cup referee, or anything like that.”
In the two decades since, Frappart has moved rapidly through the French league system, becoming the first female referee to take charge of the third tier in 2011, before moving up to Ligue 2 in 2014.
In 2019, former US Orléans midfielder Pierre Bouby said: “She is the best referee in Ligue 2. Her voice is calm but she has charisma and personality. She uses the right words. She explains.
“She is a diplomat and you can talk to her. She doesn’t try to put herself in the center of attention. She’s all about what’s best for the game.”
She was promoted to Ligue 1 three years ago, becoming the first woman to referee a top-flight match by taking charge of Amiens vs Strasbourg, a first still unchecked in the Premier League or La Liga.
His first appearances attracted tens of column inches in France. UEFA observers have also been watching her closely and have been clearly impressed with her debut season in Ligue 1.
Frappart was chosen to referee the 2019 UEFA Super Cup between men’s sides Liverpool and Chelsea in Istanbul, leading an all-female referee team as Liverpool triumphed on penalties after a draw 2-2.
The first continued. In December 2020, she took charge of a men’s Champions League pool game; in March 2021, a men’s World Cup qualifier between the Netherlands and Latvia; in May 2022, the Coupe de France final, where Nantes beat Nice to win their first trophy since 1997. She also refereed the 2019 Women’s World Cup final.
“Men’s and women’s games are exactly the same,” she says. “Women’s football is going faster and faster. It is only the tactical approach that is different. But it’s like the different styles of play between Europe, Africa and South America.
“When you referee national teams, the only difference is that the level is higher, because they are the best players in the country.”
How to share the pitch with world stars is one of the challenges that every referee faces, not only in terms of positioning, but also communication.
“You can’t talk to the players all the time, you have to find a balance,” she says. “I like talking to the players, but most of the time they’re excited, and then you can’t talk to them – they’re too much part of the game.
“Sometimes you smile, sometimes you explain certain decisions. Additionally, you need to develop body language, which players can understand better than words. Everything can be done with body language – it means a lot to players.
“When they’re calm, when they want to discuss, not when you’ve just made a decision, but as part of a game, when you pass by them, then I like to discuss the decision with them. Remember- you, most of the time, they are also under pressure.
The 2019 UEFA Super Cup was one of the most high-profile matches of his career, filled with big decisions. In the first half, she disallowed a goal from Christian Pulisic for offside, which would have put Chelsea 2-0 up.
Although debated by Pulisic, her positioning was excellent, with VAR confirming her assistant’s decision.
In extra time, with Chelsea trailing 2-1, a more controversial decision was made. As the ball flowed towards the goal line, Liverpool goalkeeper Adrian rushed to collect it. However, Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham had arrived milliseconds earlier and fell from contact.
Frappart, whose positioning shows a clear line of sight, gave the penalty. She declined to speak to the players immediately, instead speaking to her fellow officials via earpiece to confirm the decision was correct.
Then, when the penalty was confirmed and the players calmed down, she explained the reasoning to Jordan Henderson and Virgil van Dijk.
The World Cup in Qatar will feature VAR, like Russia four years ago, but will also be refereed using automated offsides, for the first time in a major international tournament. Although some have suggested it undermines the referee’s authority and makes matches more complex, Frappart appreciates the technology.
“Every game I referee now has it,” she explains. “It’s good, because it’s a parachute. We keep making decisions, but if I’m wrong, I go out (from the pitch), I watch the situation on the monitor, but it’s always me who decides if I’m happy with the decision.”
The chosen referees have been holding regular seminars since September to prepare for the heightened scrutiny of a World Cup. “It goes on the screens of many people around the world,” says Frappart. “It could destroy your career.”
There is also the competition, with the pool of officials reduced as the tournament progresses based on performance, before the highest ranked referee takes charge of the final – as long as there is there is no conflict of nationality.
“I didn’t set a goal, like I never did at the Women’s World Cup,” she said. “I just try to do my best on the first day and the last day. You can’t put too much pressure on yourself.”
Frappart is looking forward to living with the other referees, who will stay together, and she plans to spend time with her fellow female referees during the preparations.
“They have experience, like me, they know what it’s like to be first,” she said. “They were the first female referees in Asia and Africa.”
Being a female referee comes with additional concerns, including misogyny. Frappart has experienced sexism throughout her career, usually on social media, which she avoids, but it has also happened on the pitch.
“You have to stay level and keep going,” she reflects. However, she admits her family have been concerned about the abuse she is experiencing.
“Of course they are a little scared. They don’t say anything, because they don’t want to get me in trouble or make me focus less on the game.”
She adds about her physique: “I’m not that big, that strong, so I have to deal with the differences. It develops your personality, develops that style.
Frappart hopes her family will come to Qatar to support her, although the practicalities are difficult – the referees won’t know which game they are assigned until two days before kick-off. There are also other considerations.
Qatar’s record on women’s rights was highlighted during the run-up to the World Cup, with women needing permission from a male guardian for many aspects of their lives. Athleticism also flagged the risks women could face when reporting sexual violence at the tournament.
How does Frappart situate being a pioneer of women’s sport in a country where many women are deprived of their fundamental rights? She takes the time to think about her answer.
“I have been to Qatar several times for seminars and for the preparation of the World Cup. I have always been welcome in Qatar, so I have no problem going there, refereeing there.
“But I know what happened in Qatar. I will go there for the competition, I will not go there for the environment.
“But maybe this World Cup will improve women’s rights in the country. I can’t say that I don’t watch what happened, but I hope this World Cup will be a step in the right direction.
There’s only one thing to ask, which Athleticism wonders since Frappart said it three years ago, before the Super Cup final, when she said she was “never scared” before a football game.
The World Cup is a step forward. Frappart could find himself refereeing the biggest match in world sport, officiating in front of billions. Is she really never afraid?
She smiles: “When you referee, you are happy. You know the importance of the game, but you know your own qualities and skills. If they appoint you to this level, you have the quality for it.
“You are here because you deserve it.”
(Top photo: Lynne Cameron/The FA via Getty Images)