Wednesday 16 December 2020, 04:09

History-making Yamashita revels in refereeing responsibility 

  • France 2019 referee Yoshimi Yamashita has lived for football from a young age

  • Ground-breaking achievement in refereeing men's match in 2019 AFC Cup

  • Felt the responsibility of impressing in history-making fixture

History was made when Yoshimi Yamashita, alongside Makoto Bozono and Naomi Teshirogi, took charge of a group match between Myanmar's Yangon United and Cambodia's Naga World in the 2019 AFC Cup. It marked the first time that an all-female team officiated a continental men's match in Asia. The game ended in 2-0 in hosts Yangon's favour but the fixture had a greater resonance than simply the scoreline.

"I felt greater pressure than usual ahead of the match," the 34-year-old told "I was honoured to be tasked with officiating this match, but I was also aware that I had the responsibility to try my best and do the job well. It was a game which opened a new path for female referees.

"I had a feeling that this match might be significant for the future of female referees," continued Yamashita. "All that I needed to do was concentrate on my work in the match. I was grateful for the decision made by AFC as well as all those who worked hard to make this happen."

Fast progress through the ranks

A local of Tokyo, Yamashita's love affair with the game began when she started playing football following in the footsteps of older brother as a four-year-old. "I have never dared of dreaming of becoming a professional player but I always want to play football," said Yamashita, who works as a gym instructor. “I will play for a lifetime.”

She got involved in refereeing as a college student, influenced by the aforementioned Bozono, then a senior player of her colleague team. "She invited me to join them in refereeing and I thought it was interesting. Who would expect that one day together we would be a match-officials’ team in a Women's World Cup match?" she said, citing the Round of 16 game between Germany and Nigeria in the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France™.

Yamashita made steady progress as a promising referee and was appointed to control the 2015 Japan Empress Cup final, staged in a sold-out 26,000-capacity Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium. The raucous supporters chanted throughout as NAC Kobe Leonessa edged Albirex Niigata 1-0 with the legendary Homare Sawa scoring the only goal.

"It was so memorable for me to officiate a match in front of so many spectators. The fans' passion was vividly felt. I was amazed and couldn't help thinking what a fascinating sport women's football is!"

Referee Yamashita Yoshimi during the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Uruguay 2018 group D match between Colombia and Spain 

World Cup experience

Yamashita continued to advance through the ranks and joined the match officials at the 2018 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in Uruguay, before being tasked with the Germany-Nigeria showdown at France 2019.

"My heart was pounding when the players entered the field. It was an experience that I will never forget. I can still remember the players' bright eyes and the enthusiasm throughout the match [from spectators and players].

"I think the Women's World Cup is a place where all people involved can demonstrate their passion for the game. The players do their best and showcase their ability representing their countries, while the referees also prove themselves through their performance on the pitch."

Yamashita believes communication is a key skill for referees in the modern game. “How to communicate with the players is a challenge for every referee. You need to focus your attention on the refereeing job, but you need to build the relationship with the players. You need to create an atmosphere where the players can focus on their play.

“In the long run, my goals are to offer my share of contribution to the women’s game. I want to be involved in great games [as a referee] and to make everyone present at the stadiums feel satisfied.”