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Katia Itzel García, FMF
Katia Itzel García became the first woman to referee a Liga Expansión MX game in 2022 and now will be just the second woman to officiate a Liga MX game and first since Virginia Tovar in 2004. Via Mexsport

SEATTLE - Being a soccer referee is perhaps one of the hardest jobs in the world. No matter how well you do your craft, there will always be backlash. This can be multiplied several times when the referee is a woman trying to push through the gender barrier.

That was the story of Virginia Tovar, the first woman to ever referee a first division game in Mexico. Twenty years later, someone will finally walk the trail she blazed. Katia Itzel García, recognized with a FIFA referees badge since 2019, is set to referee the Pachuca vs Querétaro clash this weekend, making her the second woman to referee a Liga MX game.

For Tovar, the road was more than challenging. Not because she doubted her skills but because of all the hurdles that were put on her way just for being a woman. "When I made my debut I wasn't excited at all, I was full of rage," Tovar remembers in an interview to Mexican news outlet Excélsior. "I was supposed to make my debut 15 days before in a Tigres-Irapuato game, but people from the Tigres front office blocked my debut because they didn't want a woman to referee their game," Tovar says.

Tovar finally made her first division debut in a Irapuato-América game in February 2004. She went on to perform in three additional games in Mexico's top division from 2004 until her forced retirement in 2008. "When Aarón Padilla became the head of the Referee Committee, they blocked me by sending me to referee third division games. They didn't give me any reason why," Tovar says. "A lot of men tried to slow me down during my career. It was until I got tired in 2008, as I had to neglect my child during the day while I was training. That was when I decided it was enough," she recalls.

Now, Katia Itzel García will have the opportunity to show what she is capable of this weekend. García started refereeing at the professional level in 2016 and, since then, has collected experience in competitions such as the 2023 Women's World Cup, SheBelivesCup and Liga MX Femenil games.

Checa la versión completa de la entrevista que le realizamos a Katia Itzel García, la primera árbitra central en la historia de Expansión, una PIONERA y...

Katia Itzel García in an interview after her debut in the Liga Expansión MX in 2022.

The 31-year-old, who just worked the United States-Canada semifinal clash at the CONCACAF W Gold Cup, will travel back to Mexico to officiate Pachuca-Querétaro on March 9. She is also set to officiate Sunday's, March 10 W Gold Cup final between the USWNT and Brazil.

She has been a trailblazer herself, as she became the first woman to referee a Liga de Expansión game in 2022.

Just like Tovar, the opportunity she's earned is just an example of the path being created by other women in professional refereeing. Top divisions in France, Germany, England and even UEFA's top competition, the UEFA Champions League, have seen a woman officiate men's matches in recent years.

Just last December, Rebecca Walsh became the first woman to officiate a Premier League game. Burnley manager Vincent Kompany called it a "milestone moment" for one of the most important sporting leagues in the world.

Now it is turn for Mexico and for Katia Itzel Díaz to show the world that, in Latin America, women in sports can also have opportunities to follow and achieve their dreams.

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