Referee who came out as transgender makes Israeli sports history

Israeli soccer referee Sapir Berman made history on Monday, after she officiated her first game in the Israeli Premier League since coming out as transgender. One of the top referees in Israel’s marquee soccer league, Berman, 26, took the field for the game between Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Haifa, marking the first time a transgender referee officiated the sport in the country.

Sapir Berman, an Israeli transgender referee, gestures during an Israeli Premier League soccer match between Hapoel Haifa and Beitar Jerusalem, at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, Israel on Monday. RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS

The Israeli Football Association, the governing body of soccer in Israel, tweeted a photo of Berman refereeing. “This is the first step in a long and wonderful journey,” the association said. “Sapir, we are proud to do it with you.”

Berman is not the first transgender referee in soccer, as British referee Lucy Clark came out as transgender in 2018. But she is part of a small group of professional sports referees who have come out as transgender.

Many of the fans who attended the game supported Berman.

“About the new referee, I think it’s it’s very good,” 50-year-old Amit Opper told Reuters. “It can take the soccer [a] step ahead.”

“Everyone can do and can be what they want to be and it’s ok,” said another fan, 41-year-old Ronen Shukarnai.

Berman, who came out last week as transgender, said at the time that she’s always seen herself as a woman.

“I was a successful man,” she said, according to Reuters . “Whether in the referees’ union or in school or with girls. But when I was alone, I was a woman. And I separated between these worlds because I understood that society will not accept me.”

Berman said she has been embraced by players already, noting that they have begun using the feminine form of words in Hebrew when addressing her.

“There are players that already speak to me as a female,” she said. “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.”

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