By Ronald Lusulire
Though it is still challenging for women to break through in male-dominated fields, Salima Mukansanga is one of the women who have defied this notion.
Mukansanga has been selected for the first time to officiate at men’s FIFA World Cup. She is appearing alongside Japanese Yamashita Yoshimi and French Stephanie Frappart.
She first made history in 2018 when she became the first Rwandan female referee to officiate at a FIFA World Cup event during the 2018 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Uruguay.
Mukansanga was also selected by the world football governing body among match officials who handled the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in June, 2022 in France, along with Gladys Lengwe of Zambia and Ethiopia’s Lidya Tafesse Abebe.
She is arguably the best and most famous female referee Rwanda has ever produced.
Mukansanga was also the only female central referee in the 2018/2019 Azam Rwanda Premier League season.
Born and raised in Rusizi district, West Province, Mukansanga holds a bachelor’s degree in Nursing and Midwifery from the University of Gitwe.
She aspired to become a professional basketball player, but did not achieve it due to limited access to basketball infrastructure and decent coaching.
She later developed a passion for football refereeing during her final year of secondary school at St Vincent de Paul Musanze, before earning her first certificate in match officiating.
After almost a year of hard work and extensive learning, Mukansanga started getting assignments to a few matches in the men’s second-division league and the women’s top tier in late 2008.
Rise to prominence
She was upgraded to a CAF referee and officiated in several matches at club level and internationals, but all in the role of an assistant referee until 2014 when she took charge of her first international game as a centre referee.
The groundbreaking match for her career pitted Zambia against Tanzania during qualifiers of the 2014 CAF African Women’s Championship, whose final tournament was hosted in Namibia.
Mukansanga’s first international tournament was the women’s football competition at the 2015 All-Africa Games in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.
Among others, she was in charge of the opening match between powerhouse Nigeria and Tanzania, and the semi-final clash between Ghana and Ivory Coast.
The very year, she was one of the referees that handled the 2015 CECAFA Women Challenge Cup in Jinja, Uganda. The match was won by Tanzania.
In 2016, Mukansanga was among 47 referees that handled the Africa Women Cup of Nations in Cameroon, she was in charge of the final match between the hosts and Nigeria, which ended 1-0 in favor of the Super Falcons of Nigeria.
Mukansanga’s career as a female referee hit a new high last year when, to everyone’s surprise, she was named as the only African on the official list of referees that led the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Uruguay from November 13 to December 1.
She oversaw three matches; the Group A match between the hosts and New Zealand, Group B’s match between Japan and Mexico, and one quarter-final tie between Canada and Germany.
She was also the fourth official during the third-place clash, which saw New Zealand beat Canada 2-1 to take the bronze medal.
Thanks to her excellent performance in Uruguay, Mukansanga was among Africa’s three referees who were selected by FIFA to oversee the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.
On November 22, 2022, Mukansanga made her first appearance at the FIFA World Cup to officiate the match between the defending champion, France and Australia, which match ended 4-1 in favour of France.
Every milestone made her dream bigger. In January 2022, she made new history as the First African Woman to officiate an Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) match in Cameroon.
She was at the helm of the group stage match between Zimbabwe and Guinea in January 2022, becoming the first woman to break the 65-year history of the AFCON tournament.
This year, she is set to make more history as she is among the first-ever females to officiate at the FIFA World cup in Qatar after being selected by FIFA.