Rwandan referee Salima Mukansanga has become the first African woman selected to officiate at the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) World Cup.
Born on July 25, 1988, the 33-year-old international referee hails from the Rusizi district in the Western Region of Rwanda.
Being a basketball player, she was told she was too small to join the national under-17 team, which made her shift focus on football instead.
Focusing on football, the referee targeted a different side of football, not to be a footballer, but a referee to officiate games.
The 33-year-old had the desire to officiate during her early stage of life, as she showed more interest in watching the one making decisions on the field of play than the ones playing the game.
She was rejected by the Rwandan Football Federation (RFF) to join a referee course to begin her career due to her age.
Mukansanga kept her head up till she officiated her first match during her final year in St Vincent de Paul Musanze secondary school which unlocked her career path of greatness.
After completing secondary school, the international referee took time to get to know more about the game called football, its rules before being given the opportunity to study with other referees.
She began to officiate matches in her hometown before moving to amateur players, and then eventually worked her way up through the local football, starting with second division men’s games.
However, in 2004, she was assigned the centre referee, her first time to take up the role during the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) Women’s Championship battle between Zambia and Tanzania.
Due to her outstanding performance, she was promoted to become a CAF licensed referee in 2012 to begin officiating all over Africa, officiating most of the men league matches in Rwanda as a fourth referee.
Mukansanga’s growth in her field was quite tremendous as she rose to the highpoint of her career in 2014, after she got the chance to officiate her first international match as a centre referee in the 2014 African Women’s Championship match between Zambia and Tanzania.
The Rwandan referee aside officiating the Women’s 2014 African Championship, went on to officiate other men’s tournaments, that was the 2016 African Women’s Cup of Nations and the Women’s World Cup in France in 2019 which gave her the recognition she had been waiting for, putting Rwanda on the world map.
The female referee handled the opener of the 2015 All African Games between Nigeria and Tanzania in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo and was also in charge of the semi-final clash between Ghana and Ivory Coast.
She made history once again in January this year of becoming the first woman to officiate at the men’s African Cup of Nations tournament (AFCON), officiating the Zimbabwe and Guinea game which ended 2-1.
Referee Salima Mukansanga would be among the 36 referees and 69 assistant referees who would journey to the 2022 Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) Men’s World Cup tournament in Qatar.
Being the only African Woman among the three selected women, the international referee is now a household name in Rwanda with most male and female referees now looking up to her.
By Francis O. Quansah