Soccer

Making History: Yoshimi Yamashita is First Japanese Female Referee in a FIFA World Cup Match

Tokyo native Yoshimi Yamashita served as the fourth official for the Belgium-Canada FIFA World Cup match in Qatar in her latest high-profile assignment.

Fourth official Yoshimi Yamashita works during the Belgium-Canada Group F match at the 2022 FIFA World Cup on November 23 in Al Rayyan, Qatar. (John Sibley/REUTERS)

Yoshimi Yamashita made history as the first Japanese female referee to work in a FIFA World Cup match on Wednesday night, November 23.

The Belgium-Canada Group F match kicked off at 4 AM JST on Thursday.

Yamashita worked as the fourth official along with referee Janny Sikazwe and assistant referees Jerson Dos Santos and Arsenio Maringule at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium. 

Belgium won the match 1-0 in Al Rayyan, Qatar.

In October, Yamashita said she embraced the opportunity to work at the World Cup.

"I'm happy that I'm in a position capable of assuming responsibility as the first female referee," Yamashita was quoted as saying by The Mainichi Shimbun. "Rather than feeling pressure, I'd like to make the best of this to raise my motivation."

A 36-year-old Tokyo native, Yamashita has taken several big steps to reach the pinnacle of her career at the World Cup. She officiated in the 2016 and 2017 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cups. In 2019, she worked at the FIFA Women's World Cup. She also handled referee duties for the United States-Sweden women's match at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and in the 2022 Asian Champions League, the premier men's professional club competition on the continent.

What's more, she became the J.League's first female referee in May 2021, handling the assignment for a third-division match.

Yamashita is one of three female referees (there are 36 in total) working at the World Cup. Another three women are among the 69 assistant referees in Qatar.

Career Recognition for Yamashita

On October 6, Yamashita received the Pioneer Award at the 2022 Forbes Japan Women Award ceremony.

For Yamashita, the recognition was meaningful. She reflected on the honor while also paying tribute to her predecessors in the field.

"I am very honored and delighted to receive this wonderful award today," Yamashita said. "Thank you very much. Referees rarely get the opportunity to receive awards, so I am very pleased. 

"I am awarded the Pioneer Award this time. But the true pioneers are my predecessors who have paved the way, fellow referees, the staff of JFA, AFC and FIFA who have created so many opportunities for me."

She added, "I am usually in charge of officiating matches in the J.League, [and] I am the only woman to do so at the moment.  But I am approaching each match with the hope to make it a regular occurrence to have female referees officiate men’s matches at the professional level." 

Yamashita went on to talk about the growth of sports opportunities for women. "Last year, a professional women's football league [WE League] was established in Japan," she stated.

"I would like to do my best to make football a driving force for the success of women in the world of sports."

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Author: Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward's [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays, in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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