Monday, 7 November 2022

Exclusive Interview: World Cup Referee Salima Mukansanga

On the road to 2022 World Cup, Law5 The Ref is proud to publish an exclusive interview with one of the officials attending the big tournament in Qatar: Salima Mukansanga from Rwanda. 

The written interview was held by Petra Tabarelli.

Petra Tabarelli is a football historian, author and expert on the history of football rules. She works as a consultant for The IFAB and writes for the DFB's referee magazine et al. Since summer, she is blogging in English on Also, she is an expert for the history and present of female referees at a high level and a founding member of the award-winning German-language podcast FRUEF (German acronym for "Women talking about Football").

“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.”

Salima Mukansanga is one of three women who will take part in the men's World Cup 2022 - a true trailblazer, not only for her home country Rwanda or the whole of Africa, but for the world.

After initiall being rejected by the Rwandan FA on account of her age, having approached them about joining a referees course straight out of secondary school, she taught herself the basics of officiating, the Laws of the Game, and was eventually given the opportunity of studying with other new referees.

“Actually, at the time I was refereeing in the local Rwandan leagues, 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’.”

Having been given her initial formation, she returned to her hometown and began to officiate matches for veterans, then amateur players, and then eventually worked her way up through the local footballing pyramid, starting with third division men's games.

In an exclusive interview for Laws5_The Ref, the 34-year-old referee answered six women's questions about her refereeing career and passion, her challenges, and aspirations.

How were you encouraged as a referee? And how were you supported as a woman in football? Was there a mentor? 

I have loved refereeing since childhood, I was inspired when I used to go to games in my hometown and I would look on the field watching the players but also the referees. Seeing them in action was a big inspiration for me. So being a referee is really something I wanted to do, and it has been a motivation and driver within me. I just love it. 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.

You have studied nursing and obstetrics. How do you balance your main job and refereeing at the highest level? What does a typical week look like?

I have been putting all my effort into refereeing these days. Right now, it’s only professional refereeing, with daily training, matches, analysis of videos and watching the games.

If you could change one aspect of refereeing or the Laws of the Game, what would it be?

Some people did not accept and did not believe that women referees should be refereeing men’s games. FIFA has done a lot to support in this area. FIFA believed in us, this was the first step that they made. By providing trainings, seminars, support to women referees this has provided us with opportunity to develop into professionals. FIFA is not just taking women and giving them a chance to be there – No, it is not a chance, we have been working hard for this, doing the work, the trainings, the fitness tests, etc. We have been doing the same as men, and we are prepared to face the tournament and to succeed. We want the tournament to be successful, and we ourselves want to be successful. Whatever people say outside, at the end of the day, they will accept when they see the result.

What have been the big surprises in your career path so far?

I had never dreamed to go to the Men’s World Cup. The first time I was nominated to go to a World Cup, it was in France for the Women’s World Cup, so my next target was more at the Women’s World Cup in New Zealand in 2023 next year. 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 of refereeing and that we can deliver and reach higher, up to the top of the men’s game.  

What have been challenging moments in your career? And what have you learned from them?

Actually, at the time I was refereeing in the local Rwandan leagues, 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 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.

What do you wish you had done differently?

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. 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 my footstep, 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 with the World Cup.


  1. Thanks for the interview.
    I wish Ms. Mukasanga the best luck at the WC.

    I disagree with her when she states that her selection was on "merit". Today I watched much of her performance in the Zimbabwe vs. Guinea game at the last AFCON, and even allowing for personal expectations, I was stunned by how poor the Rwandan official performed in this game.

    Here are some clips for those interested:

    At the last minute, CAF changed the originally communicated appointment with female ARs, switching them out for two of Africa's most experienced linesmen (Kabene from DRC and Jiyed's first assistant Azgaou). It proved a wise choice as without them, the game would almost definitely have ended with zero match control and huge confrontations (my mark for Mukasanga would be "3" btw). She relied very much on Kabene/Azgaou and fourth official Ndala for even basic recognition of offences which should have been easily in her vicinity, and she barely clung onto control of the game, just about saving the match from teetering over the edge, thanks often to goodwill from both sets of players.

    On "merit", this match was enough to reject Mukasanga's candidacy for the WC. But alas, she was selected anyway. I had exactly the same feeling watching Edina Alves Batista's fifth place playoff at the Club WC, and some of the UEFA games coming under a similar heading - it was genuinely horrible to watch someone hoisted so far out of their depth, and I was quite glad when the matches were finally over.

    I don't think there is anything heartwarming or find any personal solace in these sex-based selections for the World Cup. In Mukasanga's case - she was pushed by her powerful compatriot Célestin Ntagungira inside CAF (nobody remembers how Félicien Kabanda randomly appeared inside Gassama's WC2014 trio... but I do :)), and given the confederation was assigned a quota of six refs for Qatar, it was a nice opportunity to torpedo the best African referee, Tessema, who had nobody behind him because he is from politically-insignificant Ethiopia, and was said to have made some unfortunate 'enemies' (idk how true the latter is tho).

    They couldn't increase the quota for CAF, but could to include two pretty mediocre Brazilians (Seneme), once Shukralla's Qatari teammate no longer needed him to be at the WC, there was no use for the excellent Bahraini, also excellent Cunha gets lascerated from reffing there, instead we will have the worst (male) referee of the WC in Matonte from Uruguay - another Seneme masterclass. Perhaps the only positive of the positively ridiculous female token choices is that it allowed them to compensate JFA with one and say goodbye to Satō...

    I’m sorry if this seems heartless, but you can read all the drivel about ‘pioneers’ in the wider media - our job is to deal in facts, reality, and judge performances/assignments fairly, based only on merit. If Mukasanga believes that she performed well at the women’s tournaments (I know FIFA were extremely positively surprised by her in Tokyo), and was well-placed to take advantage of idpol craze sweeping global institutions in order to reach the WC in Qatar - then fair enough. If “merit” means being actually on a par with the thirty-three male referees, or indeed anywhere remotely close to that, then this is nothing more than pure delusion.

    1. Indeed, the absence of Tessema is by far the most unfair one from this otherwise decent WC selection, I still kinda 'mourn' it as he's my favorite African referee (along with Gomes) since I first watched him in ESPAUS from last Olympic tournament.

      In terms of age, he'd still be eligible for 2026 but considering he was already a support official in 2018 I guess FIFA/CAF will move on and focus on others :/

    2. IMO Tessema deserved to be on the WC list, as did Shukralla. At least, the one from Bahrain has been able to referee in two WCs. I feel sorry for the Ethiopian.

      In Conmebol I miss Cunha, Tobar and Loustau, even Roldán, who did not shine in FIFA tournaments, but his work in Conmebol is excellent.

      And regarding having three female referees, pure propaganda, no merits.

    3. I still can't believe the treatment Tessema, Shukralla, Cunha and Tobar got. Two latter absolutely top class officials able to handle any huge clash at the WC. The worst thing is that we don't even know the exact reason why they were treated like that by CONMEBOL.

    4. And as for women inclusion, we all know it's exactly opposite to 'merited' and it's been done only to inspire women to join the refereeing/football community (or to speed up the business called women's football ;))

    5. I can agree with everything you all said, fully. But I also want to underline one thing we can probably all agree upon: nobody is questioning the need for female officials to get equal opportunities, that's pretty much common sense. Also, it's a fact that women were treated unfairly for a long time (not just in football), and they still are in many parts of the world. However, "equal" means exactly what it means, and it's certainly not being pushed to the top without showing you are on par with the best of your male colleagues in terms of match control, management, foul detection/selection etc. Meritocracy is, and always was, the best tool to achieve equality. If, someday, we arrive to a situation where 36 female referees are better than all the male ones in terms of merit, I will be the first one to happily celebrate the first all-women referee squad in WC history. However, this non-meritocratic pushing is not only unfair, but also damaging to women refereeing, IMO. It sends a completely wrong message: that women need special treatment to succeed. The truth is that they simply don't. The only thing they need is for the "system" to get rid of chauvinism, sexism and all the other "ism-s" which poison our society.

      However, at the end of this long post, I would again like to congratulate all the women officials appointed to this WC and express one hope: that, in spite of everything, they really become a beacon leading us to a future with true equality.

    6. And as for the absence of Tessema, I was somewhat shocked by his absence from the list for Qatar, I can admit to that. I will never agree that he is a weaker referee than some others who were appointed in the end. But, that's life unfortunately and I wish him all the best in the future.

    7. Thanks for speaking the truth about this, Mikael. Any objective observer who looks in detail at these appointments cannot possibly come to the conclusion that they were based on merit. Even if you think FIFA rated their performances so highly to fast track them, that doesn’t explain why all the male referees at the World Cup bring their regular teams of two assistants, the three female referees and three female assistant referees are “stranded.”

      For me, the worst part is the people in the referee community who deny this reality, whether out of ignorance, delusion, or (especially) sociopolitical motive. You try to talk about this inject with some people and they can you sexist for “doubting” the “accomplishments” of these women.

      It pains me also to see video footage of other World Cup referees (including my compatriot Elfath), who all *surely* know what’s up, pushing the lie that these appointments were merit-based and not political. These are simply lies. It is really disgusting to me, especially because refereeing isn’t a profession that SHOULD be based on fundamental principles of fairness and honesty, to see these great referees looking straight into the camera and regurgitating these blatant lies about the fairness of these appointments.

      Unfortunately, this topic is too niche to really be able to easily explain to laypeople the blatant unfairness of these appointments, and too many, too, will call you sexist for even bothering to try…

  2. Tobar failed in fifa Werner test because injury before selecting final wc referees list and cunha susbended after Argentina vs Brazil match in wc qualifiers last year

  3. 2023 changes in Brazil:

    Ramon Abatti (1989) & Paulo Zanovelli (1990) new Brazilian FIFA referees. Rodolpho Toski & Luiz Flávio de Oliveira out.

    1. Toski will be FIFA but only international var.

  4. 2 RCs after OFR for Del Cerro Grande in Sevilla-Real Sociedad.

    Tbh the general level of refereeing in LaLiga has been atrocious in the last 2-3 weeks.

    Let's hope they come back in better shape after WC.

    1. Agree,also Sevilla's behaviour has been very controversial,but I agree,no more controversial than Del Cerro's performance tonight so far.

  5. OT: Does anyone have the match official appointments for pre-World Cuo Friendlies?

    11 Nov Bahrain v Canada, Manama
    17 Nov Japan v Canada, Doha

    11 Nov Brazil v Canada, Santos
    15 Nov Brazil v Canada, São Paulo

  6. OT: Pascal Garibian will no longer be the French DTA (Referee Technical Director) after WC.
    Former FIFA Elite Stéphane Lannoy is the most serious candidate to replace him.

  7. Are the appointments revealed as in UEFA competitions, 2 days before the game at 10 AM CET?

    1. Idk, but I checked old blog posts from 2018 WC and appointments seemed to be revealed (by either FIFA or Árbitro Internacional) 2 days before, more like early in the afternoon than at 10 am CET like UEFA does.

  8. I noticed something..the Last time A referee from Europe handled the opening game of World Cup was 1998 when Gracia Aranda did. Last fife were handled by Asian and South America referees..
    2002 : Ali bu Jusaim
    2006: Horacio Alizondo
    2010: Ravshan Irmatov
    2014: Yuishi Nishimura
    2018: Nestor Pitana
    2022: .... Cesar Ramos (:

    1. I hope Ramos has a big World Cup. He is the strongest of the Concacaf referees, in my opinion (Escobar close second, followed by Elfath). I watched Ramos in-person at CAN-USA this past January, and his performance was really great to watch.

  9. 2022 i think from Europe and clement Turpin french referee will referee the opening game on 20 th November between Qatar vs Ecuador

  10. I think fifa referees committee did netural continental from 2002 until 2018 so that no European referee the opening game

  11. 2002 France vs Senegal: ali bujsiam uae / 2006 Germany vs Costa Rica Horacio elizondo Argentina/ 2010 south Africa vs Mexico ravshan irmatov Uzbekistan/ 2014 Brazil vs Croatia nishimura Japan/ 2018 Russia vs saudi Arabia Nestor pitana Argentina

  12. The only chance to any European referee refereed the opening game from 2002 until 2018 was in 2010 in south Africa but ravshan irmatov from Uzbekistan refereed the opening game as he was refereed wc club 2008 in Japan and was the best Asian referee in 2008 and 2009


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