Having made history as the first female referee to take charge of an AFC Champions League match, Japan’s Yoshimi Yamashita sees a future where such achievements are a regular occurrence throughout Asian and world football.
Thursday’s Group G match between Melbourne City FC and Jeonnam Dragons took on extra significance with Yamashita, along with Assistant Referees Makoto Bozono and Naomi Teshirogi, becoming the first all-female trio of match officials to oversee the highest level of Asian men’s club football, having made similar history in an AFC Cup fixture in 2019.
Along with Malaysian Referee Assessor Widiya Habibah Binti Shamsuri and South Korea Assistant Referee Kim Kyoung-min, who was appointed to the contest between Kitchee SC and Chiangrai United on April 16, the trio are among the wider AFC Champions League match officials’ team, and Yamashita hopes to become the first of many women to take charge of top-level men’s fixtures in the Continent.
“Our future vision is that it is a normal situation,” Yamashita said.
“Men’s matches, women’s matches, male referees, female referees, it doesn’t matter. Football is football.”
“This is our vision for the future, that any referee can live out their potential in any match.”
Having served in leading women’s competitions such as the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and earned professional men’s football appointments in the AFC Cup™ and J.League fixtures, Yamashita has ample experience in high-pressure situations, but acknowledged feeling some additional nerves for Thursday’s match, although they quickly disappeared.
“I felt nervous when I heard about this appointment, but I had a responsibility to have a good game and it was a very happy feeling – a feeling of excitement,” she revealed.
“I felt everyone’s support on my shoulders instead of any pressure, and when I was on the field of play, I knew I represented all AFC women’s referees, so I had confidence.”
Assistant Referee Naomi Teshirogi shared her colleagues’ feelings, saying, “I felt nerves, but I had so much support from my family, my friends and my instructors, and they sent me a lot of messages, so I felt confident before the match.”
As a team, Yamashita, Teshirogi and fellow assistant Bozono have now shared several ground-breaking achievements, but, like Yamashita, Bozono is quick to point out that the significance of Thursday’s latest milestone goes far beyond the three women at the centre of it.
“I really appreciated this appointment,” she said. “This is, as Yoshimi mentioned, not only for us. This is for all women’s referees and assistant referees in Asia.”
“There are so many people behind us. They have trusted us, motivated us, and encouraged us, always. We prepared well for this match, physically and mentally, and we did our best. Now we will continue to work hard and move forward, as a team.”
Like the Japanese trio, South Korea Assistant Referee Kim Kyoung-min has now officiated in matches in her nation’s men’s professional league as well as the AFC Champions League, with last Saturday’s clash in Buriram marking her debut in the competition.
“Participating in the men’s K-League game gave me new motivation, but I didn’t know this opportunity would come the way it has,” she said. “I am very honoured to have this opportunity to participate in the best men’s competition in Asia. My family is also very proud.”
“I am very grateful to the AFC for opening the door to me by considering my skills first, rather than the difference of being a woman.”
Yamashita joined Kim in applauding the Asian Football Confederation, as well as Melbourne City and Jeonnam’s players and her refereeing counterparts.
“The AFC worked hard for this opportunity,” she declared.
“Without the big support from the AFC, and also the understanding from the male referees and players, this achievement was not possible, so, I want to say a big thank you for the opportunity, and that it is really appreciated.”