She’s calling the shots!
Salima Mukansanga started on a path earning her bachelor’s degree in Nursing and Midwifery from the University of Gitwe, located in Rwanda’s South Province, Ruhango District, but deep down she always had a love for sports. Her favorite sport to play is football (or soccer if you’re American), but her desire was never to go pro. Mukansanga says, “I loved football so much that I wanted to remain in the circle.” From there, she formed a relationship with the Rwandan Football Federation and took time to learn how to referee. When she finished school, she started refereeing for the men’s Second Division league and the women’s top-tier league.
She received a promotion to become a CAF-licensed referee in 2012, which gave her the opportunity to officiate games all over Africa. But she faced many challenges, such as people telling her officiating wouldn’t pay the bills, battling dress code that wasn’t inclusive to some cultural beliefs, and sexism within the league. All of these factors made her stronger and pushed her even more to make an impact.
Two years later, she became a FIFA-certified referee, which opened up a world of tournaments for the Rwandan official like the Zambia and Tanzania match in 2014, the 2014 African Women’s Championship, and the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The 35-year-old made history earlier this year as the first female referee to officiate a game in the African Cup of Nations, in Yaounde, Cameroon and now she’s striking again as one of the few women to officiate at the FIFA Soccer World Cup in Qatar.
Mukansanga told FIFA that officiating the tournament is “very exciting, and it’s a privilege for me. I never dreamed of going to the Men’s World Cup.”
Out of 129 officials, Mukansanga stands beside two other women making history, Stephanie Frappart and Yoshimi Yamashita. Together these three women are showing little girls worldwide that they can be a part of the sports world no matter the position.
Photo: Visionhaus/Getty Images/ Mainimo Etienne