Salima Mukansanga Says She Never Dreamed of Officiating at the Men's World Cup
Salima Mukansanga will make history in the coming days as the first African woman to officiate at the FIFA World Cup finals in Qatar.
The referee, a native of Rwanda, said that she was caught off guard by the opportunity to referee at the men's FIFA World Cup, precisely ten months after doing the same at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.
The 34-year-old, who made history by refereeing the group stage match between Zimbabwe and Guinea at the AFCON on 18 January 2022, spoke about her experience as one of the first women to referee a World Cup match in 92 years.
"It was very exciting, and this is a privilege for me. I had never dreamed to go to the men’s World Cup," Mukansanga told FIFA. "The first time I was nominated to go to a World Cup, was in France for the 2019 Women’s World Cup, so my next target was more at the Women’s World Cup in New Zealand in 2023.
"Being appointed to the Men’s World Cup is something new, another opportunity we get. It means FIFA recognises that women are working hard, that we are providing quality refereeing and that we can deliver and reach higher, up to the top of the men’s game."
Mukansanga, a listed international referee for FIFA since 2012, discussed her incredible rise through the ranks, beginning with her difficult childhood at the age of 15, and ending with her current position.
"In the beginning, I used to officiate in the local leagues for men and second-division women. It was not professional, just local in our FA. Soon after that, I developed my referee abilities and started refereeing in a national league second division, second division women and then up to the first division men."
In response to the challenges women officials face while officiating men's "domestic games," she remarked: "At a time, it was new because we didn’t see women referees. It is a field dominated by men. People did not accept what we were doing. They would reluctantly say, “She’s doing fine”.
"But within me, I had a big dream to reach far, to be a professional referee, but people did not accept me. However, day by day, they started to accept it more, because of the decisions I took. They found that I was making fair 2/5 decisions and so they tried to accept.
"After more time, they also started to encourage young girls to get involved in those fields dominated by men, so it was a good time for me as I knew many of the other female referees and we could present a more powerful appearance together."
Just hours before the start of the World Cup in Qatar, she spoke openly about her readiness for the new challenge. She has no regrets about the early decision she made to become a referee, and she intends to give it her all on the international stage.
"I’m not regretting anything. Here I am, and I deserve to be here. This is my time, and I have to seize this time to make it shine. I’m really glad to be going to the World Cup, because I worked hard for this," she reflected. "I can stand on my decisions until the future because I want my future to be bright. And I want young girls to look at me and follow in my footsteps, because me too, I am now here because I followed the advice of people who have been there. Now, it is the time and I keep focused on the World Cup."
The only female of the six African referees heading to Qatar urged African girls and women who are interested in refereeing careers, saying: "Wherever you are coming from, don’t feel shy. Don’t feel depressed. Don’t let anyone ever say that you will never get there."
"You will, because of what you want to be. Today, I am here, and I never thought I would. It means you too can have that. Keep working hard, follow your dreams, focus on what you want to be, because the future is bright. Whatever you want to be, you will be."