World’s first female football referee was Turkish, confirms FIFA

A Turkish woman living in Germany has been confirmed as the world’s first female football referee. Drahşan Arda received the letter from FIFA last week, which verified her claim after viewing the available evidence.

Edirne-born Arda, now aged 73, had undergone referee training in Zonguldak, northern Turkey, in 1967. She completed the course and received a certificate, going on to referee her first match between two high schools in February 1968.

Drahşan Arda’s Turkish regional football referee licence, 1969. From Drahşan Arda’s archives

On 26 June 1968 she refereed her first semi-professional game at Mithatpaşa Stadium in Istanbul, before moving to Germany where she started to officiate at amateur football matches in Munich.

A teacher by profession, Arda was presented with a golden badge and plaque by the Bavarian Football Association (BFV) after 30 years of service. However, until now she was never formally recognised for her pioneering role as a female referee. That changed after Arda contacted FIFA, sending in documents to support her case.

On 13 Dec. 2018, a half-century on from her first game, Arda received a letter from the global body stating that she was indeed a trailblazer as the world’s first female football referee. She shared FIFA’s letter on social media, adding:

“It is an honour to be the first in history. I was enthusiastic about my first match exactly 50 years ago. With the letter FIFA sent me, I lived through that excitement all over again.”

According to Arda, the world’s second female referee is also Turkish. She claims Sema Toka followed her in blowing a whistle on the football pitch.

Drahşan Arda, from Edirne, Turkey, is confirmed by FIFA as the world’s first female football referee


Main photo top: Drahşan Arda makes history as world’s first female referee, Mithatpaşa Stadium, Istanbul, 26 June 1968. Photo from Drahşan Arda’s archives, courtesy of Cem Pekin’s posts on Facebook