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The first all-female referee team makes history at the World Cup


When Germany and Costa Rica faced off today at the World Cup, maybe the most significant people on the field were not the players but those officiating the match.

CHRISTINA UNKEL: Without a referee, you don't have a true, competitive, professional game.


That's Christina Unkel, a former FIFA referee and current CBS sports analyst. She's one of many who were elated to see three women referees officiate a men's World Cup match for the first time in the tournament's history - Stephanie Frappart, Neuza Back and Karen Diaz.

UNKEL: It's monumental because it's changing the perspective of who is qualified to officiate soccer games, regardless of gender, regardless of whether it's a male game or a female game.

KELLY: Frappart, who was the head referee in today's match, was also the first woman to officiate a women's World Cup final. That was in 2019. Today, she's an icon in the world of soccer refereeing.

SHAPIRO: Unkel says it's taken a long time to get to this point, but having these three trailblazing women referee during this politically charged tournament might just make the beautiful game a little more beautiful.

UNKEL: This can't be lost in the mix of - we talk about human rights negatively. This is also human rights in the positive.

KELLY: For today's match, she was not on air. Instead, Unkel says she watched from home, a glass of champagne in hand to celebrate the moment.

UNKEL: On how huge of an achievement this is for the women at the World Cup, being - you know, we always harp on - we can't forget the shoulders of the giants that we stand on, who paved these ways, whose names aren't on - or their photos aren't plastered everywhere. But for them, would this achievement even be possible?

SHAPIRO: And Unkel says she's optimistic that this is just the beginning of the sport showing a red card to inequality.

UNKEL: The train's left the station. It's not going to go back.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEYONCE SONG, "RUN THE WORLD (GIRLS)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mallika Seshadri
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.