I am watching the Women's soccer/football World Cup. So far, all the refs I have seen have been women. Now that I think about it, during the men's World Cup I only saw men as refs.

Is this in fact the case? Are all the refs in the Women's World Cup women, and all the refs in the Men's World Cup men?

If so, is this a rule, directly or indirectly? (An example of an indirect rule might be that all refs must have played in the league/association which would imply a gender requirement without explicitly stating one.) Are there any rule differences or reasons why the two referee populations would not have significant overlap?

1 Answer 1


Prior to 1995, all referees for international matches (men's and women's) came from the same list. In 1994, four female assistant referees made it onto the list for the first time.

In 1995, FIFA decided to keep two separate lists of referees - one for women's football (that only female referees were eligible for) and one for men's referees.

In the 1999 Women's World Cup, all officials at the tournament were selected from the women's list for the first time - previously there weren't enough on the list and the vacant spots had to be filled by referees from the men's list.

I've grabbed this historical information from an article on FIFA's website

From my own background as a referee, I'm aware that most national associations (particularly in Western nations) try to ensure that for national women's leagues, female referees are chosen first. Unfortunately, there are still not enough female referees to cover all of the games, so some of the spots, particularly for assistant referees are filled by developing male referees.

In the lowest levels of the game, there is a complete shortage of referees, so generally women and men referee both women's and men's football. There aren't enough female referees to solely cover the women's games, and the standard of play in the men's football is poor enough that the average fitness/speed disparity between men and women doesn't even really come into play.

  • 2
    There are cases of female referees working on male matches, at least in Brazil, because they are better than available male referees.
    – MFornari
    Jun 13, 2015 at 11:19
  • That's a good point. While that probably is true in most places, I think there is a greater emphasis on fitness than there should be in other countries, and as a result, female referees usually only work as assistant referees (and even then that's rare) in men's national leagues. Jun 16, 2015 at 4:05
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    In France, there is one hierarchy for referees where men and women are allowed (from Ligue 1 to sunday league), but, in order to try to put female referees on top females games, there is a special small pyramid for women and they decide whether they go for it or not. However, they still officiate sometimes in male football games at regional levels.
    – LeReferee
    Jun 19, 2015 at 14:37

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