TOKYO – Japanese referee Yoshimi Yamashita is all set for the big stage as she makes history at the World Cup in Qatar.
The 36-year-old is one of six women – three referees and three assistant referees – to be selected for the first time by world football governing body Fifa to officiate its flagship men’s tournament from Nov 20 to Dec 18.
There are 129 match officials in all, with Yamashita the only Japanese.
“The fact that women can officiate men’s World Cup games for the first time is a message that the potential for women is ever increasing,” she told an online press briefing organised by the Foreign Press Centre Japan on Thursday.
“I do understand that there may be differences between men and women in terms of fitness and physical stamina. But in everything other than those areas, we are the same,” she said.
As such, gender is not at all an issue if a female referee proves to have the “physical endurance to be able to officiate at the level that is required”.
She added: “To be a good referee, one must love football, one must be sincere and one must be methodological.”
Still, Yamashita admitted that refereeing men’s World Cup games was never a goal for her – but only because she had never believed that there would be a possibility.
The other women officials are referees Stephanie Frappart (France) and Salima Mukansanga (Rwanda), as well as assistant referees Neuza Back (Brazil), Karen Diaz (Mexico) and Kathryn Nesbitt (United States).
This is a major first step towards it becoming a norm for women to officiate at men’s games, she said, adding: “For this to happen, I feel a strong pressure that I need to win the trust of audiences.”
Not that she is at all cowered by the big stage.
Yamashita, whose first brush with football was at the age of four when she was influenced by her elder brother to kick a ball, decided at age 23 to follow in the footsteps of her senior Makoto Bozono, also an international referee.
She has a growing resume, despite the odds stacked against women who remain a minority in the football arena. She has officiated at the 2019 Women’s World Cup and at last year’s Tokyo Olympic Games.
She also became the first woman last year to officiate a match in the J.League – Japan’s football league – as well as at the Asian Champions League this year.
“For every match that I take part in, I go in with confidence and have nothing to fear in any game,” Yamashita said. “It is probably 0.1 per cent anxiety and 99.9 per cent expectation going into each game.”