Three female referees carved a new piece of history in football on Saturday at the African Nations Championship (CHAN) quarter-finals.
Revered Ethiopian referee Lidya Tafesse, a former professional basketball player, and her assistants, Malawian Bernadettar Kwimbira and Nigerian Mimisen Iyorhe, became the first all-women refereeing team to take charge of a match at a senior CAF male tournament.
Tafesse had a remarkable ‘outing’, presenting a wonderful advertisement for female referees while seemingly enjoying herself immensely in the centre of the park.
Of course, two years ago, female referees handled matches at the African Under 23 and Under 17 Cup of Nations tournaments.
But that was at junior level.
On Saturday, Tafesse took it a notch higher. And while at it, she was flawless as she oversaw the tie between Tanzania and Namibia, which ended 1-0 in favour of the Taifa Stars in Limbe, Cameroon.
Tafesse, pictured below, fearlessly took decisions in the game with such aplomb. The three Tanzanian players she yellow-carded within 10 minutes during the second half will attest to that.
Interestingly, the recipients accepted the bookings without any qualms to the satisfaction of CAF referees manager Eddy Maillet, who hails from Seychelles.
“The CHAN is the second most senior national team competition in the continent after the Africa Cup of Nations,” he said.
“It is a wonderful platform for Lidya, Bernadettar and Mimisen to prove what they are capable of. They competed with male referees for places at this tournament and now they have made history.”
The 40-year old Tafesse has been on a 20-year journey of refereeing, and continues to rewrite the history books. A few years ago, she became the first ever woman to officiate a men’s top flight game in Ethiopia.
She was also the first ever woman FIFA centre referee in the East African nation.
“I started off in Jimma while still playing basketball. I played football in school but basketball was my first sport.
“I was interested when I met one of the instructors doing some courses and some of us from the basketball team were invited. I liked how he was teaching and I got interested more,” Tafesse told the CAF website.
CAF Deputy General Secretary Anthony Baffoe, pictured below, admitted it was a historic day for African football and one that they are proud of.
“CAF is really committed to the development of the women’s game and giving them equal opportunities. The presence of female referees at male competitions is positive for their development as it gives them exposure by officiating competitive games,” Baffoe said .
Maillet revealed that they launched this ground-breaking initiative during the Under 17 AFCON in Tanzania in April 2019 and the outcome was inspiring.
The same year in November, during the Under 23 AFCON in Egypt, female referees were thrust into the spotlight again and they did not disappoint.
The female refereeing duo of Fathia Jermouni and Salma Mukansanga, pictured with a ball, impressively took part in the third-place match.
South Africa’s Akhona Makhalima, a FIFA accredited referee, who often officiates in her country’s DStv Premiership matches, will draw inspiration from Tafesse.
“I want to excel in my country so that I go on to excel in the region, then the rest of Africa and the world. I want to see myself refereeing in the men’s world cup. The one time I said this they said ‘she is daydreaming, but I say anything is possible,” she told FARPost.
Surely, Tafesse and her two assistants have proven it is all possible.
By Mthokozisi Dube