YATR North America Academy Director

13th October 2017: Esther Staubli breaks the gender and takes charge at U17 World Cup in India.

Switzerland’s Esther Staubli made history by becoming the first European female referee – and only the second ever – to officiate in a FIFA men’s tournament.

She says: “It was a big surprise for me to have this match in the last round of the U17, I really appreciate to have this match. We are referees and we live for Football, it was a big honor for me to have this match…”

Esther took charge of the under-17 World Cup game Japan v New Caledonia in the final round group E match on Saturday. Earlier this season she administered the Women’s Euro 2017 final between the Netherlands and Denmark, which the Danish won 4-2.  She also handled this year’s Women’s Champions League final. What a great year for Esther.

“That FIFA has selected female referees for a men’s tournament is a logical consequence of an education programme that FIFA’s Refereeing Department started in 2016. The positive results and improvements seen in the joint preparations have shown that the time has come for elite female referees to officiate in men’s competitions together with their male colleagues,” a FIFA release said. The women refereeing program has existed since 2005 and progressed rapidly in 10 years. It is now starting to produce great referees and showcase the efforts of the last decade.

The 38-year-old is one of seven women referees invited to the tournament in India. To date, she is the only one who acted as the main referee in this tournament.

Staubli has been on the international scene for some time having refereed in the 2016 Rio Olympics and the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.

Eun Ju Im (Korea)

16th September 2001: The only previous time a woman refereed a FIFA men’s match was South Korea’s Im Eun-Ju, also at the under-17 World Cup, in 2001. On September 16th, 2001, she became the first woman to referee a World Cup FIFA men’s match. Unfortunately, it went unnoticed back then!

The history is broad and other major International matches are taking place under different umbrellas such as the International Francophone games, Pan Am Games, the World University Games, etc. FIFA manages the World Cups and Olympic Games but many other important International matches & competitions are taking place all over the World.


13th July 2001: The 2001 Jeux de la Francophonie, also known as IVᵉˢ Jeux de la Francophonie, were held in Canada from July 14–24, 2001. Wikipedia

Just prior Eun Ju Im (Korea) in 2001, Sonia Denoncourt (Canada) became the first woman ever to referee an international men’s professional match during a major men’s International competition. We thought the World was starting to change but after Eun Ju Im, there was a huge gap in time for another woman to be included in a men’s competition.

Sonia Denoncourt (Canada)

Francophone Games 2001. International men’s match: Cameroun 1 v Mali 0 on 13 July 2001.

There are still very few women in the World that ever refereed in a men’s competition and international matches as central Referee and not as fourth officials or assistant referees.

Over the last 30 years, some other familiar names have been involved in men’s domestic professional (or semi-pro) matches. It includes but not exclusively: Bibiana Steinhaus (Germany), Nicole Petignat (Switzerland), Claudia Umpierrez (Uruguay), Carol Anne Chenard (Canada), Silvia Regina (Brazil), Amy Fearn (England), Wendy Toms (England), Lorraine Watson (Scotland), Sandra Hunt (USA), Dagmar Damkova (Czech Republic), Virginia Tovar (Mexico).

There are a lot more opportunities for women referees and I hope the ones who are ready to step up will be given the chance to prove themselves.

Think BIG! The ideal scenario is that one day…the World believes in performance, abilities, and talent instead of selection of referees based on gender. A big dream! Is it possible? I definitely hope so.