“Women in the shadows among ‘men in black’”?: Two female pioneers of refereeing in professional soccer in France (1997–2019)

Research papers
By Olivier Chovaux

While the history of soccer is a well-established field, the history of referees is a new area of academic research, most of whose work currently focuses on men and “refereeing athletes,” playing at the highest level of the profession. Beyond this historiographical bias, this invisibility is above all due to the sociology of soccer, which remains a “bastion of masculinity”: as of June 30, 2017, only 159,128 (all age categories and functions combined) members of the French Football Federation (FFF) were women, out of a total of 2.16 million licensees. In 2014, less than 2 percent of referees were women (682 out of 27,343). During the 2018/2019 soccer season, only Stéphanie Frappart and Manuela Nicolosi refereed in the Ligue 2 professional championship, the former as a referee and the latter as an assistant referee. Despite recent plans to accord women a greater place in the world of soccer, the pitch remains a “glass ceiling”: the female pioneers of refereeing, such as Corinne Lagrange, Ghislaine Labbé, and Nelly Viennot, do not seem to have been emulated since the mid-nineties. Through the study of the biographies of Ghislaine Labbé and Stéphanie Frappart, and as an extension of very recent French and foreign academic works, this article proposes to examine, within the interval of a generation, the unique place occupied by these “women behind the scenes.” By drawing on the sporting press, the FFF archives, and the interviews conducted, it is possible to trace their personal and sporting path: by identifying the factors that contributed to their rise and then their retention among the elite through the production of specific expertise; by examining their relationship with the institution, their peers, and male actors during matches; and by questioning both the unique and common features of their respective careers by comparing them. In this respect, the fact that Stéphanie Frappart became the first woman to referee a Ligue 1 match on April 28, 2019 seems more of a “symbol” (at least in its media treatment) than a real breakthrough.

  • soccer
  • women
  • history of sport
  • elite
  • gender
Go to the article on Cairn-int.info