Sapir Berman, last Tuesday in Ramat Gan (Israel).Sebastian Scheiner / AP

The until now referee Sapir (sapphire, in Hebrew) Berman, 26, will lead the Hapoel Haifa-Beitar Jerusalem match of the Israeli League on Monday after announcing that he feels like a woman. He will step out of the dressing room onto the pitch after having revealed his secret in the hyper-masculine world of Middle Eastern football. “Until now I have lived projecting an image. As a man, I have done very well in the refereeing college, in my studies and even with the girls. But I have always seen myself as a woman. From a young age I was attracted to my feminine side ”.

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With this public statement he came out of the closet last week. He announced at the headquarters of the Israel Referees Association in Ramat Gan, in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, that he was going to start the medical sex reassignment process. She assured that she had had the full support of the president of the association, Ronit Tirosh, her colleagues and the world of this sport to become the first transgender referee of the Jewish State.

“In my family they saw me as a man, but when I was alone I felt like a woman (…). I was envious of the feminine side, ”she said to explain the inner dilemma that accompanied her for many years. “I thought that society was not going to accept me. But in the end I decided to come out of the closet. I do it for myself, and also for my family and friends. I think I am doing the right thing and I have a very broad support ”, he argued before the press, accompanied by the main officials of Israeli football. Sapir acknowledged that it took time to make the decision in such a masculine professional environment before coming to the conclusion that he was unable to wait any longer: “I could no longer hide. So I’m going to change ”.

Sapir Berman will continue to strictly enforce the regulation from now on, although now she knows that many people are beginning to see her – that is how they have been sent through many messages on social networks – as a pioneering figure in the world of football. “I hope that society accepts all sectors, all genders,” was his wish after announcing the decision.

On the toughest courts

After 10 years whistling matches in all categories, Sapir has hardened himself on the toughest courts to find a secret formula against the vituperation – sometimes denigrating and sexist – of the most fanatical fans. “It goes through one ear and comes out of the other”, Sapir Berman came to say with pragmatic wisdom, formerly known by the Christian name of Sagi (which translates as great or sublime), and who aspires to one day end his career with refereeing directing the Jerusalem or Tel Aviv derbies and international matches. “I sincerely hope that our society improves and is as inclusive as possible for all sectors,” he said.

With openly gay ministers and deputies and in an atmosphere favorable to diversity, Israel recognizes the LGTBQI community. But while the rights of homosexuals have been translated into norms, for transsexuals there is still a great legal vacuum.

The freedom with which sexual diversity is manifested is not the same in liberal Tel Aviv, home to the largest gay pride parade in the eastern Mediterranean, or in multicultural Haifa, where the first Israeli transgender referee is going to release her new identity, than in conservative Jerusalem. Precisely the visiting club Beitar – which has been on the verge of being acquired in recent months by a sheikh from the Gulf – is better known for its anti-Arab extremist fans than for the quality of its game. From this game on, the visibility of Sapir Berman’s trans smile will be like a red card warning for bigots in Israeli football.

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