AIn the center circle, Idan Vered leaned down to the referee’s hand. Smiling, the Beitar striker took her fingers in the palm of his hand and looked at the blue nail polish that Sapir Berman had applied to the game. Then Berman whistled, for the first time as a woman. It was her debut as a referee in the Israeli premier league, as the first transgender woman in a top tier football league.
At the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, she directed the game between Hapoel and Beitar Jerusalem. Half an hour before kick-off on Monday evening, when the referee team came onto the field to warm up, there was applause from the spectators from the city, which is tolerant compared to other countries. Hapoel fans held up posters: “We all stand by you” and “Super Woman”. According to sports reporters, some of the right-wing religious fans of Beitar Jerusalem who traveled with them had disdainful and homophobic chants, but that did not seem to bother them.
Last week, Guy Berman announced that he would be called Sapir and that he would appear as a woman. The 26-year-old Berman had whistled in the second division for the last season and was promoted to the first division this season because of her performances. There she initially directed three games, the last as a man three months ago. She then informed the association that she was going to have sex reassignment surgery.
She made her decision to change the sex half a year ago, Berman said at a press conference. “At first I didn’t know what to call it, but I always felt drawn to the other side and was jealous of it. I’ve learned to live with it. I was a successful man, whether in the referee association, at school or with women. My family saw me as a man, but when I was alone I was a woman. I separated these worlds because I knew that society would not accept me. ”Finally, he decided to come out“ and show who I am – especially for myself, for my soul ”.
Berman said that as a woman, she is now delighted with the support of her family, the referee union and the Israeli football association IFA. IFA tweeted, “We’re so proud.” Berman said some of the players are starting to address them in the feminine form. The Israeli Football Association had a camera team accompany them.
While there is no understanding of transgender people in many religious areas in Israel, LGBT people in other parts of the country receive a lot of support. Berman said she’s gotten a lot of encouragement on social media too. Since she has long been used to sexist and other insults as a referee for over ten years, just like other game officials, insults on the field did not bother her: “I don’t hear them, I’ve learned to filter that out.”
The game, which was no longer decisive for both clubs at the end of the season, was finally won by Hapoel Haifa 3-1. Sapir got by with three yellow cards. The coach and players praised the referee’s performance, while Sapir emphasized that first and foremost, she enjoyed being a referee in the top division again with the appropriate players and the pace. Her goal is to be able to lead international games one day, as well as the Tel Aviv city derby. And Beitar coach Jossi Mizrahi said after the game: “She is a strong girl.”