Celebrating women in sport on International Women’s Day: Stephanie Frappart
Stephanie Frappart picked up a referee’s whistle at the age of 13. Fast forward to more than 25 years later and it has been a career full of first for this inspirational trailblazer.
In 2022, Frappart became the first woman to referee a game at the men’s World Cup. Not only that, she did it in Qatar, a country that continues to be heavily criticised for allowing women’s rights to be severely restricted under male guardianship law.
Having first been selected for the referee pool by FIFA several months earlier, Frappart was chosen to officiate the Group E clash between Germany and Costa Rica on 1 December. Elsewhere at the tournament, Rwanda’s Salima Mukansanga and Yoshimi Yamashita from Japan were both given fourth official duties at a number of group games each.
It was a moment that had been coming and Frappart wasn’t fazed by the historic achievement. Just prior to the tournament starting, she had told The Athletic.
“The men’s World Cup is the most important competition in the world, not only football. But I was the first female referee in France, the first in Europe, every time the first. I know how to deal with that.”
For Frappart, it was a choice between playing football and refereeing football when she was 18. By that stage, she had already officiated at a national level in France’s Under-19 league and saw that women’s football in the early years of the 21st century was still not very well developed.
There was no particular plan to make it as a referee at the very top of the game, but everything she has achieved simply boils down to her ability to do the job extremely well. Being a woman in a field dominated by men for well over a century hasn’t held her back.
By 2011 and still in her twenties, Frappart was refereeing games in France’s Championnat National – the third tier of men’s football in the country. Three years after that, she got the opportunity to join the pool of referees in Ligue 2, becoming the first woman to take charge of a game at that level.
But Frappart was not solely involved in men’s football, refereeing at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada and taking charge of one group game and one knockout tie. By 2019, four years more experienced, she was the best female referee on the planet and was given control of the final at the next tournament – which also happened to be staged in her home country.
Already at that time, Frappart had refereed in Ligue 1. French football’s top flight had used female assistants before, but never a referee. Of Europe’s top five leagues, only the Bundesliga had broken the barriers any earlier by appointing a female referee. Serie A in Italy eventually followed suit in 2022, but it is still a moment in history that hasn’t happened in La Liga and the Premier League.
“I showed I had the skills and abilities to be there,”She said of her Ligue 1 call-up.
Communication is a significant part of why Frappart commands the respect of players. Having labelled her the best referee in Ligue 2, Orleans midfielder Pierre Bouby said in 2019:
“Her voice is quiet but she has charisma and personality. She uses the right words. She explains. She’s diplomatic and you can talk to her. She doesn’t try to make herself the centre of attention.”
Frappart is happy to explain decisions to players, but not if they are caught up in the heat of a moment and always in the tone that is right for the context, whether it be with a smile or something sterner. She is also an advocate of using the correct body language to convey things properly.
Held in such high regard, the firsts kept coming. In 2019, taking charge of the UEFA Super Cup between Liverpool and Chelsea made Frappart the first woman to referee a major men’s European game – Switzerland’s Nicole Petignat first refereed UEFA Cup qualifiers in 2004.
The Super Cup appointment made it clear how much Frappart is not only advancing things for her own benefit.
“Young girls see me on TV and know it’s possible,”She said in response.
In 2020, Frappart officiated in the men’s Champions League group stage, in charge of a game between Juventus and Dynamo Kyiv. Then, in 2021, a Champions League knockout game between Atletico Madrid and Chelsea, both firsts, and in 2022 the Coupe de France final.
Being called into the referee pool for the 2022 World Cup and taking the whistle for that Germany-Costa Rica clash was simply the next logical step in a career that has been heading in only one direction since the age of 13. What’s more, this isn’t even the end of it.
- First female to referee in Ligue 2
- First female to referee in Ligue 1
- 2019 Women’s World Cup final
- 2019 UEFA Super Cup – first female to referee major men’s European game
- First female to referee in men’s Champions League: group stage & knockouts
- First female to referee men’s World Cup qualifier
- 2022 Coupe de France final
- First female to referee in men’s World Cup