Salima Mukansanga’s rise to the apex of refereeing’s Alex has been meteoric. The Rwandan who turns 35 on July 25, 2023 will be celebrating her birthday between Australia and New Zealand where she will be officiating at her second FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Mukansanga who first officiated at the Women’s global pinnacle nations football jamboree four years ago in Paris is ecstatic at the thought of officiating in the competition.
“I’m so excited because this is my world cup. In Qatar it was a very big world cup but the Women’s World cup is where I belong without any restriction. In the men’s world cup, we have mostly men and in the WWC it is where we belong. In the men’s World Cup we had about 3 women referees.”
The Rwandan referee is at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup endowed with the reputation of being amongst a select few women officials who’ve taken charge of games at the men’s world cup and the women’s event. Having witnessed the level of both global competitions, Mukansanga is convinced, the level of football played in both competitions is thrilling.
“The level of the competition, the level of the football is different but all of them are playing football and so when it comes to refereeing, it is the same. The laws of the game are the same”
“I was in the Women’s WWC in France in 2019 but now it is different, it is 2 countries Australia and New Zealand and there’s huge expectations and I’ve really never been there so I’m expecting to get something new, to see better football. It is going to be a very big competition where we will see new, something different, something better.”
Mukansanga caught the football virus very young and she reminisces her interactions with the football world being very early.
“I fell in love with football very young because I am born in a family where my father managed a football club and we interacted with players, coaches and football people, enjoying the moments together.”
“Very often people kept blaming referees if matches didn’t go well and all of this inspired me. The referee can change the course of a game so this spurred me to be a referee,”
“My family didn’t want me to play football. Most of the time girls went back home with injuries because the pitch was not good so my parents advised me not to play football because it could have an impact in my life. So I instead played basketball but kept watching football always, having an inspiration being a referee.”
While Salima Mukansanga played basketball more and watched football, a disappointment will drive her right back into the passions of gracing football pitches.
“I missed an opportunity being selected to the Under 17 girls basketball team and just around that period, there was an announcement about persons who were interested in being football referees. I was excited because I had been thinking about it. That’s how I shifted from being a basketball player to being a football referee”
Once Mukansanga was drafted in, she never looked back, impressing and inscribing her name in the annals of football’s history. During the Africa Cup of Nations last year in Cameroon, Mukansanga who is also a nurse became the first woman to referee at the African competition, leading an an all-woman officiating team in the event.
Having gleaned experiences officiating at World Cups, Africa Cup of Nations and the Olympics, Salima Mukansanga has become a lightening rod for change, taking upon herself to inspire Africa’s next cast of exceptional referees.
“Now in Rwanda, a lot of people look at me and say If Salima can be a referee, be professional, get paid and do a good job then other young women and other people can do it too”
“In a lot of the African countries, there was a gender issue where people didn’t think about equity and providing women with opportunities. There is also the cultural barrier and religious barriers. I was born a muslim and seeing a girl wear a short wasn’t something many people could accept. People prefer to give space to boys and these stereotypes continued. But if you want to achieve your dreams, you have to believe and fight for it”
“I will follow what the law says and so whether it is men or women on the pitch, I will apply the laws. A referee can make mistakes, it happens but it’s important to understand that we always want to do our job”
With significant experience now accrued officiating at major tournaments, the Rwandan finds it hard picking a favorite moment out of an eventful career.
“My best memory is seeing my name appointed at the 2022 FIFA World Cup and seeing those wonderful players, officiating in a big stadium with an amazing crowd. These are things you can really never forget” Salima Mukansanga concluded.