Salima Mukansanga, the referee that officiated the highest altitude soccer match in the world is set to make history at the present Africa Cup of Nations by being the first woman to referee a match at the men’s continental tournament.
Mukansanga, who was the fourth official in Guinea’s 1-0 victory against Malawi on Monday and is slated to take over as a central referee later this week, is continuing his ascent to stardom in Cameroon.
The Rwandan official, 33, officiated matches in the Tokyo Olympics and the Women’s World Cup in France, and now sees the Nations Cup as a chance to show that there should be no restrictions for female referees in the men’s game.
She told ESPN ahead of her debut as the first female central referee at the biennial continental showcase, “We’ll show the world we can do anything.”
“We can demonstrate that we can successfully officiate a man’s game at a high level.
“The rules of the game are the same, we’re now utilizing VAR, it’s the same as the World Cup, it’s the same as the Olympics, and it’s a fantastic chance for me and other women.
“I want other women to support me, other lady referees, and women all around the globe, because we can accomplish something, we are prepared, and we have the courage to achieve,” she says.
Mukansanga is one of four female officials in the event, joining Morocco’s Bouchra Karboubi and Fatiha Jermoumi and Cameroon’s Carine Atemzabong, however only Mukansanga has been recognized as a key referee.
“I was ecstatic, ecstatic, ecstatic, ecstatic, ecstatic, ecstatic, ecstatic, ecstatic, ecstatic, ecstatic, ecstatic “Being named the tournament’s first female referee is a huge accomplishment, honor, and narrative.
“When I saw my name among the list of referees, I assumed it was a mistake, but now that I’m here, it means they saw something in me, they trust in me, and they’re certain that I can accomplish something.
“I trust myself and what I’m doing because I know I’m capable.”
Certainly, CAF’s Head of Referees Eddy Maillet, who made the ultimate choice on which officials will participate in the tournament, has endorsed her.
Maillet stated in a statement obtained by ESPN that “the match officials were picked based on their expertise, talents, and present form.”
“Only the greatest officials will be there for this once-in-a-lifetime occasion.”
Mukansanga’s impending debut is another first for female referees, coming just days after Rebecca Welch became the first woman to oversee an FA Cup third-round fixture when she refereed Plymouth Argyle’s victory against Birmingham City.
Mukansanga feels that her experience officiating Team GB’s matches against Chile and Australia, as well as the match between the Netherlands and China, at the Tokyo Olympics has prepared her well for the Nations Cup’s challenges.
“The Olympics is one of the world’s largest events; it was an important event for me and I learnt a lot,” she concluded.
“We’d be in unexpected positions during the games, so [at the pre-competition seminar], we learned various skills to utilize in the games, with teams, and with the VAR.
“We don’t use VAR in Africa, and we don’t use it in my nation, so that was significant, and I learnt a lot, including many key tools to read for the games.
“The Olympics were a struggle, but they helped me become seen, gave me an image where everyone recognized me and people said to themselves, ‘This lady can accomplish something, this girl is ready.'”
Despite the Olympics’ formative experience and the way it elevated Mukansanga’s profile in Africa, she recognizes that taking charge of a Nations Cup game will provide some unique obstacles.
“Men’s games at this level, of course, are not like women’s games, with experienced and professional players, game pace, and team abilities. The level of football you can anticipate and your grasp of the game are at an all-time high “She recognized the fact.
“All of those things need me being at the top of my game and prepared to deal with them, which involves being well prepared, [understanding] the rules of the game and how to apply, interpret, and implement them.”
“The most essential thing is to be prepared for the game’s demands and, of course, to work hard with my fellow referees.” We will succeed together if we work as a team and communicate well.”
Beyond the technical components of officiating, it’s evident that Mukansanga’s goal to reach the peak of the game is fueled by a lifelong passion of football, having played the sport as a child only to be captivated by the person in the middle.
“I used to play football in primary and secondary school, but when I used to watch games, I liked to watch the person who was on the field of play, who was making decisions, leading players, talking to the players, the person who people respected on the field of play, and that person interested me,” Mukansanga explained.
“I wanted to be like that guy on the field of play; I wanted to do what he did, and I needed to understand more about that person, the one who was in charge of the game, handing out cards and sanctioning them. That’s why I was so passionate about it.”
She learned herself the fundamentals of officiating, the Laws of the Game, and was ultimately granted the opportunity to study alongside other new referees after being refused by the Rwandan FA due to her age after approaching them about taking a referees course right out of secondary school.
She returned to her hometown after receiving her basic training and began officiating matches for veterans, then amateur players, and gradually worked her way up the local footballing pyramid, beginning with third division men’s games.
Mukansanga is painfully aware of how her passion for officiating and love of the sport has impacted her life in ways she hadn’t imagined after reaching the top tier of the domestic league.
“Because of refereeing, I’ve already reached a point I didn’t expect to reach, [realized] aspirations I had, and traveled from Africa to Europe, from Europe to America,” she continued.
“I’ve traveled a lot and started to learn about other nations, teams from other countries, various confederations, continents, and suddenly there you are, from Africa, officiating games for European or American clubs.”
“Not everyone has this opportunity, so to find oneself with these teams, as opposed to the teams you used to officiate, whose level isn’t as high, is something that makes me feel very happy.”
Mukansanga, who refereed the world’s highest-altitude football match on Mount Kilimanjaro in 2017, has her sights set on the men’s World Cup in the future, but for now, it’s the Nations Cup, and the chance to make history on Africa’s largest stage, that has her keen eyes.
African Stars to miss the premier league fixtures
The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations is already underway, leaving numerous Premier League teams without important players at a vital time of the season.
The event was postponed owing to the coronavirus epidemic and worries about rainy weather, but it is again slated to begin this weekend with a slew of big-name players flying to Africa.
The 2021 AFCON was supposed to take place in June and July of that year, however it has been pushed back to early 2022.
It will now be held from January 9 to February 6, 2022, in Cameroon, which will host the event.
Premier League managers will likely be frustrated by the timing of the competition’s transfer, as they will be faced with a major problem in coping without their finest players, with some expected to be absent for over a month.
None more so than Liverpool and Arsenal, who have probably the most difficult tasks ahead of them.
Salah, Mane, and Keita will all depart Liverpool for Egypt, Senegal, and Guinea, respectively.
Meanwhile, Arsenal talents Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe, and Thomas Partey will go to Gabon, Ivory Coast, and Ghana to represent their countries.
Man City will also be missing Algerian Riyad Mahrez, the current champion from the last edition in Egypt 2019, who will be looking to defend his title.
However, those Premier League behemoths will not be the only ones to be short-handed over the crucial New Year period.
Here’s a list of all the top-flight players that will miss the Premier League in early 2022 to compete in the AFCON:
Premier League players at AFCON 2021
Arsenal: Thomas Partey (Ghana), Mohamed Elneny (Egypt), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Nicolas Pepe (Ivory Coast), Omar Rekik (Tunisia)
Aston Villa: Mahmoud Trezeguet (Egypt), Bertrand Traore (Burkina Faso)
Brentford: Julian Jeanvier (Guinea), Frank Onyeka (Nigeria), Tariqe Fosu-Henry (Ghana),
Brighton: Yves Bissouma (Mali)
Burnley: Maxwel Cornet (Ivory Coast)
Chelsea: Edouard Mendy (Senegal)
Crystal Palace: Cheikhou Kouyate (Senegal), Jeffrey Schlupp (Ghana), Jordan Ayew (Ghana), Wilfried Zaha (Ivory Coast)
Everton: Alex Iwobi (Nigeria)
Leeds United: None
Leicester City: Daniel Amartey (Ghana), Nampalys Mendy (Senegal), Wilfred Ndidi (Nigeria), Kelechi Iheanacho (Nigeria)
Liverpool: Mohamed Salah (Egypt), Naby Keita (Guinea), Sadio Mane (Senegal)
Manchester City: Riyad Mahrez (Algeria)
Manchester United: Eric Bailly (Ivory Coast), Amad Diallo (Ivory Coast), Hannibal Mejbri (Tunisia)
Newcastle United: None
Norwich City: None
Southampton: Moussa Djenepo (Mali)
Tottenham Hotspur: None
Watford: William Troost-Ekong (Nigeria), Imran Louza (Morocco), Adam Masina (Morocco), Ismaila Sarr (Senegal)
West Ham: Said Benrahma (Algeria)
Wolves: Willy Boly (Ivory Coast), Romain Saiss (Morocco)
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