Who Is Yoshimi Yamashita, The Japanese Woman Challenging A Male Bastion

Yoshimi Yamashita will control 22 men on a football pitch and will be the first to do so in Asia's biggest club competition, the AFC Champions League.

Yoshimi Yamashita is among the world's top women football referees having started her career in 2016

Yoshini Yamashita is fast becoming a role model for women football referees in the world. The 36-year-old from Tokyo, who started officiating in 2016, broke new ground on Thursday when she became the first woman to officiate a men's match of Asia's biggest club football championship, the AFC Champions League 2022. (More Football News)

Yamashita oversaw Melbourne City defeat Jeonnam Dragons of South Korea 2-1 in a Group G encounter. Lee Kyu-hyuk scored for Jeonnam after 16 minutes to cancel out Carl Jenkinson’s early opener at the Pathum Thani Stadium just north of Bangkok.

Andrew Nabbout scored what turned out to be the winning goal for the Australian team just six minutes later. Melbourne City are second in Group G level on points with leader BG Pathum United of Thailand.

The Asian Football Confederation and FIFA have been lifting the stock of women players and referees across the world and Yoshini Yamashita is a sparkling example of how women can control sport by sheer focus, stamina and logical thinking. And Yamashita is not scared to bring out the cards from her pocket if need be.

Asian football history will be made in the AFC Champions League 2022 Group Stage on Thursday when Yoshimi Yamashita walks out to become the first female referee to manage a tie in the continent’s premier men’s club competition.

Alongside Yoshini Yamashita, assistant referees Makoto Bozono and Naomi Teshirogi have also been appointed to officiate the Group G match between Melbourne City FC and Jeonnam Dragons at the Pathum Thani Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand. 

The trio are part of this season’s AFC Champions League match officials’ team, also comprising Malaysian referee assessor Widiya Habibah Binti Shamsuri and assistant referee Kim Kyoung-min from the Korea Republic, who earlier made history when she was appointed to the Group J contest between Kitchee SC and Chiangrai United on April 16.

The experienced women match officials are no strangers to the men’s competitions. In May 2019, Yamashita alongside Bozono and Teshirogi became the first all-female cast to officiate an AFC Cup match when they oversaw the tie between Myanmar’s Yangon United FC and Naga World of Cambodia.

"I felt greater pressure than usual ahead of the match," Yamashita told "I was honoured to be tasked with officiating this match, but I was also aware that I had the responsibility to try my best and do the job well. It was a game which opened a new path for female referees.

"I had a feeling that this match might be significant for the future of female referees," continued Yamashita. "All that I needed to do was concentrate on my work in the match. I was grateful for the decision made by AFC as well as all those who worked hard to make this happen."

Similarly, Kim also officiated the AFC Cup match between Ceres Negros FC from the Philippines and Vietnam’s Becamex Binh Duong in 2019 and all four female officials were also appointed to the AFC U23 Asian Cup Uzbekistan 2022 Qualifiers in October 2021.

The quartet, who passed the demanding fitness test and matched all the requirements for men officials before their selection, were also part of the largest-ever cast of AFC women’s match officials at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022, where the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system was implemented from the quarter-finals for the first time. A COVID-hit Indian women's football team had to skip the tournament as hosts. 

At 36, Yoshimi Yamashita (2nd from L) is among the fittest referees in Asia. AFC

Yoshini Yamashita officiated the USA vs Sweden match during Tokyo 2020 but her biggest break came in the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019. Earlier, she has stints in the 2016 and 2018 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup and 2018 AFC Women's Asian Cup. 

“The preparations have not been easy because you have to train and prepare yourself physically and mentally. I want to do my best in every match and it is very nice to see so many referees from the AFC being selected. We are always supporting each other and I believe we can do our best when we work together," Yamashita was quoted as saying after she was selected for France World Cup.

With AP Inputs