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Sapir Berman becomes Israel’s first transgender soccer referee

CM 25/04/2021

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A senior Israeli referee will soon be recognized as the first transgender referee in the Israeli Soccer Premier League, Israeli media reported Sunday. 

Sagi Berman, 27, joined the Israeli Referees Association at a young age – about 10 years ago — and presented exceptional physical and mental capabilities from the very beginning, according to Israeli sports channel Sport5. Over the years, he proved himself as one of Israel’s most promising soccer referees and was promoted by the Referee Association in July last year. 

Now, Berman is planning on tackling the next big challenge – both personally and professionally – and will announce in a special press conference his intentions of going through sex reassignment surgery (SRS) and officially changing his (hers, from now on) name to Sapir, while maintaining her position as a senior referee. 

“At 12:00 p.m. at Tuesday we will hold a press conference with soccer referee Sagi Berman, who has courageously decided to change his gender to female,” a statement released by the Israel Football Association (IFA) read. “Sagi chose the name Sapir and should be addressed as female.” 

Berman has received support from friends and family since announcing her intentions of going through the procedure a few months ago. The Referee Association and the IFA both stressed that Berman would continue to referee following the procedure.  A few notable soccer teams even expressed public support in Berman’s decision. Premier League team Maccabi Netanya FC congratulated Berman for her “courage and openness” on Twitter. 

Berman has already started acclimating to the feeling of finally being able to combine her identity and workplace. In the past few weeks, she has started coming to practices while wearing makeup and accessories that make her feel more comfortable in her body.

“Players and referees alike have been really supportive,” one of Berman’s colleagues told Kan. “Like any female referee, she just gets dressed in a separate dressing room.”
Talking to reporters ahead of Tuesday’s press conference, Berman said that the peak of her struggle came during the coronavirus pandemic. “I felt trapped. I wanted to wear women’s clothes and didn’t know how to share it with my partner … clearly, she did not take it well,” she said. 
While more homosexual referees have made headlines in recent years after coming out and maintaining their successful careers, transgender referees are much rarer.  
In 2018, Lucy Clark became the world’s first transgender soccer referee to come out. 

In 2019, Tel Aviv hosted the largest LGBTQ sports event in the Middle East, reflecting a long-awaited conceptual change regarding inclusiveness in Israeli sports.It was reported earlier in April that a transgender woman who was placed in a men’s prison had her transfer request to a women’s prison denied by Israel’s prison service, on the basis of the woman’s “masculine appearance,” despite a doctor affirming that she should be treated as a woman. Idan Zonshine contributed to this report. 

Source: Jerusalem Post

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