The rise of female referees in professional men’s football

Apr 14, 2021

Football Stories

Finally in focus since 2019: Female referees in men's football

Stéphanie Frappart has been the name on everybody’s lips since 2019.

In the spring, she was employed for the first time in the French Ligue 1, and in August of the same year she already refereed the UEFA Super Cup with an all-female crew of referees. Further assignments followed in 2020 in the Europa League, the Nations League and finally as the first female referee in the Champions League. Plus her assignment on 27 March 2021 as the first referee in a World Cup qualifying, and what can we expect for the summer at the European Men’s Championship?

But she is far from being the only.

In this article:


Stéphanie Frappart, 2019 (Photo: El Loko Foto / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Stéphanie Frappart, 2019 (Photo: El Loko Foto / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0).

First steps in European first divisions

The first female referee in a European first division in men’s football was Nicole Petignat of Switzerland (1999) and the first female assistant referee was Gertrude Gebhard of Germany (1995).

In these leagues, female referees refereed in the men’s 1st division:

  • Switzerland (1999)
  • Austria (2000, namely Petignat as a provisional)
  • Greece (2010)
  • Luxembourg (2013)
  • Ireland (2015)
  • Ukraine (2016)
  • Germany (2017)
  • Cheryl Foster (2018)
  • France (2019)
  • Albania (2019)
  • Georgia (2020)

There were also a host of occasion where women acted as assistant referees:

  • Germany (1995)
  • France (1996)
  • England (1997)
  • Czech Republic (2003)
  • Italy (2005)
  • Ireland (2010)
  • Ukraine (2018)
  • Spain (2019)
  • Austria (2020)
  • Wales (2020)
  • Georgia (2020).

Toward the international stage

Some female match officials were also appointed in international matches.

UEFA European Championship Qualifiers:

  • Female referee: none
  • Assistant referee: Nelly Viennot (France, first time 1996)

UEFA Nations League: 

  • Referee: Stéphanie Frappart (France, first time 2020).
  • Assistant referees: Oleksandra Ardasheva and Maryna Serhiivna Striletska (Ukraine, for the first time in 2020)

UEFA Super Cup: 

  • Referee: Stéphanie Frappart (France, first time 2019).
  • Assistant referees: Manuela Nicolosi (France) and Michelle O’Neal (Ireland) (both for the first time in 2019). In addition, Paula Brady as 4th official (Ireland, for the first time in 2019).

UEFA Champions League:

  • Referee: Stéphanie Frappart (France, first time 2020).
  • Assistant referee: Nelly Viennot (France, qualifier for the first time in 2000, main draw) for the first time in 2001

UEFA Cup and Europa League respectively:

  • Referee: Nicole Petignat (Switzerland) during qualifier (first time 2003) and Stephanie Frappart (France) during main draw (first time 2020)
  • Assistant referee: Nelly Viennot (France, qualifier for the first time in 2001, main draw) in 2003.

A steady increase since 2019

Nicole Petignat, Stéphanie Frappart and Nelly Viennot are the women who have set several milestones in European football. Of them, only Frappart is currently still active as a referee at the top level. And at 37, she is still a few years away from the age limit for referees. Enough time to set many more milestones.

Along with her, other female match officials have put their foot in the door of men’s football since 2019, as can easily be seen in the overview above. 

What are the reasons for this? Greater public interest in promoting women in football – this also brings better publicity for the associations. Also better promotion of female referees, although there is still much, much room for improvement here, as a recent study on sexism against female referees shows.

It is a step towards equality, but there is still a long way to go before female referees no longer make history in men’s football. Because that means that it is normal.

Find out more

Find out more about this topic by reading a piece written by Petra Tabarelli: Female referees in football – All in top men’s football. You can also check out FIFA’s vision to elevate women referees. Dive into the evidence gathered in the “Study of the Referee and Match Official Research Network”, by Dr Tom Webb of the University of Portsmouth.

Photo Gallery

—————————       Finally in focus since 2019: Female referees in men's football      —————————
Although there have only been ten female referees in the top leagues of men's football in Europe over the last 30 years, seven of them are currently active.
Article Tags:   diversity  |   gender history  |   identity  |   values  |   volunteering

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