Japanese Yoshimi Yamashita, one of a trio set to make history in Qatar as the first female referees to officiate at a men’s FIFA World Cup, feels both pressure and excitement at the prospect of being a pioneer.
“We have to consistently see female referees [on the pitch] to normalise it. I feel pressure to earn everyone’s trust and make that happen,” the 36-year-old told reporters in Tokyo.
She also understands the benefits of her time in the spotlight, saying she feels her very presence in a traditionally male-dominated event shows new possibilities are opening up for women.
“There are barely any female referees in the Middle East, and it would be wonderful to see even just one more female referee after the World Cup,” she said.
Yamashita was named in May alongside France’s Stephanie Frappart and Rwanda’s Salima Mukansanga as officials for Qatar later this year – the first women to referee at a men’s World Cup.
According to FIFA, the women will be joined by Neuza Back from Brazil, Karen Diaz Medina from Mexico, and Kathryn Nesbitt from the United States, all named assistant referees among 69 others for the tournament.
“The goal is to get to the point where it’s not a big deal that a woman is refereeing a men’s match, but at this stage I’m happy this is making a splash,” Yamashita said.
Qatar will not be the first place that Yamashita will break new ground in the sport.
On top of officiating at the 2019 Women’s World Cup and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, she became the first woman to referee matches in the J-League and Asian Champions League.
However, inclusion for Qatar does not guarantee she or the two other women on the referee list will be blowing the whistle during matches. They could be designated as “fourth officials” who assist from the sidelines.
But whether she makes it on the pitch or not, Yamashita’s preparation for the global sporting showpiece will not change.
“I’m really conscious of the speed, I make split-second decisions. I have to continue training that muscle as the World Cup draws closer and be prepared to adjust to speedy developments,” she said, adding she has been practising by watching videos of previous matches.
“I have been inspired by each and every referee, and they all have qualities I’d like to have.”
Describing herself as one percent nervous and 99 percent excited, she demurred when asked if there were any particular players whose matches she hoped to officiate.
“That’s a secret,” she said with a laugh.