Israel: Transwoman soccer referee makes sports history

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Sapir Berman, an Israeli transgender referee, at a soccer match between Hapoel Haifa and Beitar Jerusalem, Sammy Ofer Stadium, Haifa, Israel, May 3, 2021 – Image: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

(Reuters) – Sapir Berman made sports history on Monday, officiating at a soccer match in Israel’s Premier League, for the first time since coming out as transgender.

“This is the first step in a long and wonderful journey. Sapir, we are proud to do it with you,” the Israel Football Association tweeted, as she took the field for the contest between Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Haifa.

At a news conference last Tuesday, in which she publicly announced her transition, Berman, at 26, already a top referee in Israel’s leading soccer league, said she had always seen herself as a female, even at a young age.

She told reporters that players had already begun using the feminine form of words in Hebrew when addressing her.

“They really feel that they want to somehow take part in this process and even speak to [me] when it’s not necessary and speak to me as a woman. So thank you,” Berman said.

Outside the stadium in the northern city of Haifa, one fan carried a banner that hailed Berman as a “super woman, incredible, brave”.

Berman is not the first transgender referee in the soccer world. A British soccer referee, Lucy Clark, came out as transgender in 2018.

-Reporting by Ronen Zvulun; writing by Jeffrey Heller

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