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Sapir Berman comes out as Israeli soccer’s first-ever transgender referee

Top referee, 26, formerly known as Sagi, says she’s long seen herself as a woman but kept it under wraps over fears ‘society would not accept me’

Israeli Premier League soccer referee Sapir Berman, formerly known as Sagi Bermen, at a press conference on April 27, 2021. (Screen capture/Twitter)
Israeli Premier League soccer referee Sapir Berman, formerly known as Sagi Bermen, at a press conference on April 27, 2021. (Screen capture/Twitter)

A top soccer referee came out publicly as the Israeli Premier League’s first ever transgender referee at a Tuesday press conference.

Sagi Berman told reporters that she now identifies as a woman, and has changed her name to Sapir.

“I always saw myself as a woman, from a very young age. At first I did not know how to name it, I did not know what to call it, but there was always an attraction to the female side [of things], and there was an envy of sorts of other women, and I lived with it — I lived with it… [while projecting] a very male persona,” Berman, 26, explained.

“As a man I was successful. Whether in the referees association or in school or even with girls. To the family, I was a man as well, but when I was alone, I was a woman,” she continued. “I divided these worlds because I understood that society would not accept me, would not be by my side. So I continued living like this for 26 years.”

Berman went on to explain why she eventually chose to come out.

“In the end, I decided to come out, to show [the world] who I am. First for myself, for my own wellbeing, but also for my loved ones, so they wouldn’t see me suffering,” she said.

“I did not let them see me suffer, but in the final days before going public and in the past few months as well, I haven’t totally been myself,” she said. “So here I am today. Sure of myself, confident that this is the right decision, that I have broad support behind me. I sincerely hope that our society will improve and be as good and inclusive as possible for all sectors and genders.”

Asked whether she was worried about responses to her transition, Berman said was used to being harassed by fans on the field and even hearing sexist remarks, but that it hasn’t fazed her.

Berman is known as one of the league’s top referees. As she’s undergone hormonal treatments over the past several months, however, the referee has been relegated to fourth-string roles.

Last month, reports in the media revealed that one of the Premier League’s referees was gender-transitioning to a woman, without revealing the referee’s identity.

The Israeli Football Association has expressed full support for Berman and is reportedly already consulting with both the Union of European Football Associations and FIFA for how to properly accommodate transgender referees.

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