Salma Mukansanga made history last year when she became the first Rwandan female referee to officiate at any FIFA World Cup event during the 2018 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Uruguay.
The 28-year old has also been selected – by the world football governing body – among match officials who will handle the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup come June 7 – July 7 in France.
Arguably the best and most famous female referee the country has ever produced, Mukansanga was the sole African match official at the U17 Women’s World Cup, and is one of only three African referees at this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup along with Gladys Lengwe of Zambia and Ethiopia’s Lidya Tafesse Abebe.
She is also the only female central referee in the ongoing 2018/2019 Azam Rwanda Premier League season. Most recently, she was in charge during Police’s 3-2 victory over Mukura at Kigali Stadium last week.
In today’s issue, Saturday Sport profiles the star referee Mukansanga who officiated in the second division league and women’s championship for ten years before her promotion to the country’s premier competition in 2018.
Born and raised in Rusizi District, West Province, Mukansanga holds a bachelor’s degree from University of Gitwe in Nursing and Midwifery.
Mukunsanga aspired to become a professional basketball player in her youth days, but this was never to be, especially due to limited access to basketball infrastructure and decent coaching.
Rather, she developed 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 the following year.
Speaking to this publication in an exclusive interview, Mukansanga said, “I liked basketball, and wanted to take it very seriously, but access to basketball infrastructure and coaches was hard. That’s how I ended up in refereeing, which I have also never regretted. I love it.”
After almost a whole year of hard work and extensive learning, Mukansanga started to be assigned some (very few) matches in the men’s second division league and the women’s top tier in late 2008.
Rise to prominence
Four years later, she was upgraded to a CAF referee and officiated in several matches, at club level and internationals, on the continent, 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 and Tanzania during qualifiers of the 2014 CAF African Women’s Championship, whose finals tournament was hosted in Namibia.
“It is because of how I handled that match that I proved my ability to lead matches at any level on the continent. It was an exciting experience. Since that day, I have been trusted to officiate countless international matches in Africa and beyond,” he vividly remembers.
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 celeb referees that handled the 2015 CECAFA Women Challenge Cup that took place in Jinja, Uganda – which was won by Tanzania.
In 2016, Mukansanga was among 47 referees that handled the Africa Women Cup of Nations in Cameroon, and was in charge of the tournament’s 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, 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 namely, 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 3rd place clash, which saw New Zealand beating Canada 2-1 to take the bronze medal.
Thanks to her excellent performance in Uruguay, Mukansanga is among Africa’s three referees who have been selected by FIFA to oversee the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.
“Officiating at the World Cup is every referee’s dream, especially when you come from a country like mine where women football is still very low. I feel privileged for the opportunity.”