Stéphanie Frappart made history this week when she became the first ever female referee to officiate a major men’s European match. The French official who has previously run the rule over games in Ligue 1, Ligue 2, the French third division and more recently during the Women’s World Cup this summer, took charge of Wednesday’s UEFA Super Cup which saw Liverpool defeat Chelsea in a tense penalty shootout.
Frappart is no stranger to grabbing headlines, becoming the first woman to officiate a French top-flight men’s match in April, between Amiens and Strasbourg. An achievement and subsequent performance that she received a high amount of praise for.
Wednesday’s fixture was not just history-making for Frappart and her colleagues. She also proved to the football sphere that female officials can perform to the same standard as the male referees, if not better. Post-match, the French national was heavily praised for her ability to calmly dominate proceedings, which many pundits described as a great display of professionalism, but more crucially served to show that fears over a woman’s failure to control 22 testosterone-fuelled men on a football pitch have been grossly misplaced.
The French 35-year-old also received plaudits from Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp, with the German stating after the match that: “I told them (his players) that if we had played as they officiated, we would have won 6-0, there was so much pressure for this historic moment, I couldn’t have any more respect for Stéphanie Frappart tonight.”
However, the main aspect which casted a shadow over what should have been a celebration of proficiency and equality was the ever-controversial technology VAR. It once again divided the supporters’ opinions, with Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham accused of diving for the Blues, who were awarded a penalty. It was converted by midfielder Jorginho. Later on, Abraham was again the centre of attention when his decisive spot-kick in the shootout was saved by Liverpool’s keeper Adrian. Replays clearly showed that the Spaniard’s feet were off the line before the young English striker hit his spot kick, but VAR did not intervene. Nevertheless, the controversial technology was out of f Frappart’s purview and did not rain on her parade.
People around the world will remember this game for the history that it created, with the first ever female referee taking charge of a male European final. But not just that, also the fact that she didn’t look out of place in an all-male environment.
On another note, it is worth pointing out just how few female referees are currently officiating in the men’s game, with the likes of Bibiana Steinhaus in the Bundesliga and Sian Massey-Ellis who is running the sidelines in the Premier League.
The list is still grossly too short, but this Super Cup is a step in the right direction and can hopefully be used as precedent to encourage more women to start a career in refereeing and has the potential to push the leagues around Europe to put more trust into female officials.
As a woman myself, I was glad to see this happening but what pleased me the most was to sit and read all the positive comments made post-match by football fans after the match. I hope that this was not a one off and will become a regular occurrence, which will allow headlines to focus purely on the football and not the gender of the officials.
The great performance, coupled with positive media output will hopefully open door for more female referees. Make no mistake, this is a critical step towards equality in an environment which remains dominated by men. To be continued…