Connect with us

International Football

Young Congolese woman aiming for the top after making FIFA referees’ list



Rachel Zihindula knew from the moment she started refereeing that she wanted to take charge at the very highest level.

The 24-year-old hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern city of Goma in a region that has been at war for almost 30 years.

In January, she was elevated to the rank of international referee by world soccer’s governing body FIFA, which qualifies her to officiate at international level.

Against the backdrop of her father dying and her mother leaving home, Zihindula has beaten the odds.

Congolese men play football with Mount Nyiragongo puffing away in the background, in Goma, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, February 18, 2021. REUTERS/Hereward Holland

“It’s true that we have a lot of hassles here but I remained brave,” said Zihindula.


“It’s not every day that one is appointed an international referee, but I’m ready,” she added.

Congo’s eastern region saw the resurgence of the M23 rebellion in March last year. The rebels seized several towns and villages, and advanced to the outskirts of Zihindula’s hometown of Goma, forcing over a million people to flee.

Congo’s national soccer league is also facing issues.

The Congolese Association Football Federation prematurely ended the top flight championship in April after placing it on hold since December due to clubs facing financial difficulties.

Yet that has not dimmed Zihindula’s passion for the game.


She started training as a referee in 2015 and quickly began handling provincial competitions, before moving up to the national soccer league.

Inspired by France’s Stephanie Frappart, the first female referee to officiate a men’s Champions League game, Zihindula hopes to one day oversee Confederation of African Football (CAF) tournaments or FIFA matches.

It is unclear when she will get her first taste of international action but she can’t wait for next season to start.



Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.