Trailblazing AFCON ref Mukansanga: I want to open door for women

Trailblazing Africa Cup of Nations referee Salima Mukansanga says she wanted to open the door for women when she made history by taking charge of a match in the tournament.

Mukansanga presided over Zimbabwe’s 2-1 win over Guinea, becoming the first female referee in the 65-year history of the Cup of Nations.

„I’m really proud of myself, I’m really happy because it is a big achievement and honour. It’s a privilege, it’s a first step for women – that we have made as women,“ Mukansanga told Sky Sports News.

„At first, I was a bit scared with the pressure and the attention but I was really happy because without that chance, without that moment, that opportunity, nobody could ever write the story about the first ever woman officiating as a central referee [in an AFCON game].

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Highlights of the Africa Cup of Nations Group B match between Zimbabwe and Guinea

„Once I got that chance and I got that opportunity I thought let me show them, let me open the door for the rest of the women, let me give all that I have.

„For me it was like a final game, I did it like a final and I thought ‘this final will open the door for me and for the rest of the women – and at the next AFCON there could be two women or three women, why not?’

„Something that [also] made me very happy was that the players respected me, and respected my decisions. Those big players are professional. They understand. They know. They can understand the situation.“

Salima Mukansanga of Rwanda in action as she becomes the first woman to referee a match at the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations as she keeps control between ONISMOR BHASERA of Zimbabwe and NABY KE..TA of Guinea during the Group B Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 match between Zimbabwe and Guinea at Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in Yaounde on January 18, 2022. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)
Image: Mukansanga gets between Zimbabwe’s Onsimor Bhasera and Guinea’s Naby Keita

Mukansanga has previously officiated at the All-Africa Games and the Women’s World Cup but admitted she never thought that she would one day be refereeing at the pinnacle of the men’s game in Africa.

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„I was thinking ‘why not me in a top competition, why not me in those big competitions that we have heard about, those tournaments that we used to see on TV’.

„That was my dream. To see myself in those big competitions, and here I am, but I never dreamt I would get here to AFCON.“

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Mukansanga also explained what was going through her mind when she kissed the match-ball before taking to the field in Yaounde.

„Everything about the game was exciting, every second of that game. it was vey important to me,“ she said.

„There are things that we do because they are a passion, or something you like, or something that you feel is good, and you like to do it.

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„Kissing the ball – I was just happy. Happy and showing I was ready. The game would start with the kick off that ball and that ball helped get me motivated.

„But with every performance there are areas to improve. I gave all I had and I am really proud of the performance that I made.

„I’m really happy but for the next time there is a lot to improve, every referee has a lot to improve and you cannot be 100 per cent good. I’m proud of the performance, but I need to work hard to go far and improve because with every game we are learning. We learn from every game.“

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