Israeli soccer referee comes out as transgender woman

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Israeli soccer referee Sapir Berman gives a press conference in Ramat Gan, Israel, Tuesday, April 27, 2021. Berman has come out as transgender and is living and enforcing the rules of the game as a woman. Berman announced Tuesday that she has received the support of her family, the local referees union and Israeli and international soccer officials. She said even players and fans have begun to address her as a woman, even if they dont always like her calls. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

RAMAT GAN – An Israeli soccer referee has come out as transgender and is living — and enforcing the rules of the game — as the only woman in the country's top-shelf league.

Sapir Berman announced Tuesday she has received the support of her family, the local referees' union and Israeli and international soccer officials. She said players and fans have begun to address her as a woman, even when they gripe about her calls on the field. On Sunday, Berman will be the head referee for a playoff match between heavyweight teams Hapoel Haifa and Beitar Jerusalem.

It will be a marquee event on Berman's life-long road to living, as she said Tuesday, as herself.

“I always saw myself as a woman, from a young age,” Berman, whose birth name was “Sagi,” told reporters at Ramat Gan Stadium, headquarters of the Israel Football Association.

“I realized society will not accept me, will not be on my side, so I continued like this for nearly 26 years," she said.

Berman said that being involved in such a male-dominated profession made her hesitate to go public. But about six months ago, "I decided to come out and to show who I am, first of all to myself, for my soul,” she said with a smile.

Fans and players quickly took notice, she said, addressing her with the feminine form of Hebrew words — a change Berman chooses to see as a sign of respect for her decision to transition.

Israeli soccer officials stood behind Berman at Tuesday's news conference in a room above the stadium's playing field.