Women continue to make giant strides in football with their inclusion in decision-making in Africa and around the world. Women are being seen regularly not only in boardrooms and dressing rooms but also on the pitch. Six women referees taking to pitches at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast will be building on a growing legacy for young women around the world.
Joel Omotto, bird story agency
With the introduction of the first African woman referee at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in 2021 and three more women referees at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the expansion of women into football decision-making continues in the Ivory Coast where a total of six women are officiating at the 2023 AFCON tournament.
The six are among 68 match officials appointed for the delayed 2023 tournament, each of whom brings a wealth of experience. This marks a significant milestone almost unthinkable just five years ago.
So, who are the six female referees officiating at the AFCON 2023?
Rwanda’s Salima Mukansanga broke the glass ceiling when she made history by becoming the first female referee to officiate an AFCON men’s game, at the 2021 AFCON tournament in Cameroon.
Her impressive performance would see her make history again when she was selected among three women officiating at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, a first for the global tournament.
A trained nurse, the 35-year-old will return to AFCON armed with more skills, having also officiated at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia, which was her second straight assignment at that event, following her debut in France in 2019.
“It means you have a lot you are carrying on your shoulders. The rest will say ‘oh wow! Now the door is open, we can go through.’ It means you are opening the door to other women,” she told the BBC after her selection.
Mukansanga, who has also officiated at the Olympics and the CAF Women’s Champions League, is highly respected among fans, who cannot wait to see her in the Ivory Coast.
“We watched her performance in Cameroon two years ago and she was impressive. She is a no-nonsense referee and that is the character you want from match officials,” said Ahmed Diakite, a Mali fan.
South African Akhona Makalima has seen her star continue to rise in the last two years and is set to make her debut at the AFCON.
Makalima was thrust into the global spotlight when she made her maiden Women’s World Cup appearance last July 22, serving as the Fourth Official when Denmark took on China at the Perth Stadium in Australia.
The 36-year-old has been officiating since 2014 with her international assignments including the CAF Champions League and the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations.
Makalima is highly respected in South Africa where is known for her no-nonsense approach to her work in the Premier Soccer League.
“We are happy that we have one of our own at the tournament,” Bongani Zulu, a South Africa fan shares.
“We will not just be watching Bafana Bafana but also monitor her performance and we are sure she will perform well. At the World Cup last year, she did well which is great marketing for Africa and women’s football.”
Morocco’s Bouchra Karboubi is another debutant at the 2023 AFCON and the only woman selected to officiate in the final rounds of the competition. Karboubi is a trailblazer whose career is filled with ‘firsts.’
She became the first Arab referee to officiate at the Women’s World Cup last year when she took charge of the match between defending champions, the United States of America and Vietnam at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand.
In 2022, the police inspector became the first female referee to officiate the final match of Morocco’s Throne Cup, having set a personal milestone two years earlier, when she became the first female referee to oversee a match in Morocco’s top-tier professional football league, the Botola Pro 1.
Zambian Diana Chikotesha is taking over her first assignment in a men’s game but she has also enjoyed a meteoric rise.
‘Super Diana’ as she is commonly known in Zambia, served as an assistant referee at the 2023 Women’s World Cup and she will be at the centre of attention in the Ivory Coast again.
Chikotesha, who started her career as a match official in 2014, saw her star shine bright in 2022 when she took charge of the CAF Women’s Champions League, FIFA Women’s U20 World Cup and Africa Women’s Nations Cup.
Rivet Maria Pakuita Cinquela
Video Assistant Referees (VAR) have become the subject of discussion ever since the technology was introduced due to their somewhat controversial decisions and in the Ivory Coast, Rivet Maria Pakuita Cinquela from Mauritius is one of them.
This is not her first assignment in the men’s game after being in charge of VAR in CAF Champions League matches such as the tie between Morocco’s Wyad Casablanca and Enyimba of Nigeria.
She brings a wealth of experience after also serving as the Fourth Official at the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations and VAR at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Cameroon’s Carine Atezambong will also work as an assistant referee in what will be her debut AFCON tournament.
She had her big break last year when she worked on the 2022/23 CAF Champions League final between Morocco’s Wydad AC and Al Ahly of Egypt. She also worked as a video assistant referee (VAR) during the 2023 U17 Africa Cup of Nations in Algeria, including the final.
She was also picked to officiate at the 2023 U17 World Cup in Indonesia.
bird story agency