Salima Mukansanga, first female referee in the African Cup of Nations

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Her name is Salima Rhadia Mukansanga, she is 33 years old, she was born in Rwanda and in these hours she has left the trace of her name in the history of African football. Salima is in fact the first female referee to direct a match of the Africa Cup, a competition that has existed for 65 years: an event in its own epochal way, in a continent that has only recently, and with great difficulty, been recognizing equal rights for women in the world of sport. With personality and pulse he refereed Zimbabwe-Guinea, Group B 3rd round. At the end of the game he admitted that, when he saw his name in the nominations, he struggled to believe it. “I thought it was a mistake.” But it wasn’t a mistake.

Salima told a ESPN that sport was a way to find herself. It was in love with basketball (his first great passion, he also played at good levels), then football came. “But I liked the referees more than the athletes, because it was up to them to make the decisions.” So as soon as she finished school she enrolled in a course for soccer referees. But it was rejected. One, two, three, ten times. Until finally the exhausted organizers accepted his registration application. Salima Mukansanga immediately distinguished herself for the ease with which she refereed matches and for the kind but firm manner with which she compared herself with the other girls. Yes, because for years Salma was only allowed to referee women’s football matches.

When he also started directing men’s soccer matches, the first thing he thought was: “The important thing is that I make myself respected.” She succeeded. In 2012 the first great satisfaction: assistant in the qualifying matches of the African Cup of Nations. In 2015 the Pan-African Games. Last year participation in the Tokyo Games, in the women’s tournament. And today, finally, the Africa Cup of Nations, the tournament in which Africans care more, more than the World Cup itself. “Salima has had to overcome great obstacles to reach this level: she deserves all our admiration,” said CAF Chief Referee Eddy Maillet.

Now, next to the French Stephanie Frappart, who has directed matches in the English Premier League and the men’s Uefa Champions League, there is also Salima Mukansanga. «I have shown that we women can referee a high level match like our male colleagues. And we can do it well “, he said, aware that his small and big business is now a source of inspiration for many African girls who, from Rwanda to Senegal, from Cameroon to Uganda, from Nigeria to the Ivory Coast, look at it. on the pitch and think: «We can do it too». Another wall knocked down, another horizon that opens up.

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