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

May 19, 2023 _ GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – Rachel Zihindula knew from the moment she started refereeing that she wanted to take charge at the very highest level.

Congolese International referee Rachel Zihindula 24, participates in a training exercise alongside other referees at the Stade de l’Unite, a multi-use stadium in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo May 2, 2023. REUTERS/Paul Lorgerie

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.

“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.

(Reporting by Paul Lorgerie and Sonia Rolley; Writing by Anait Miridzhanian; Editing by Toby Davis)

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