bibiana steinhaus bundesliga referee

Debate: Women referees in Men’s Football – Good or Not So Good?

Earlier this May, 38-year-old Bibiana Steinhaus got the surprise of her life when she was informed of her appointment as a Bundesliga centre referee. There’s been a lot of talk about gender equality over the years; nevertheless, should women really be given positions as centre referees in men’s football matches?

For those of you still wondering who Bibiana Steinhaus is; she’s a German policewoman who has been made popular by the most popular sport in the world – football. Now, Steinhaus doesn’t play the game, at least not anymore. She officiates it.

Steinhaus who will get her opportunity to enforce the rules of the game in Germany’s elite football league this season is the daughter of a referee and is also said to be dating former Premier League no-nonsense referee, Howard Webb.

Based in Langenhagen, Steinhaus began her refereeing career in 1999. By 2005, she was already listed as a FIFA licensed referee and had officiated matches in the German Cup and the German female Bundesliga. As her reputation burgeoned, she was listed among the centre referees for the 2 Bundesliga (Germany’s second tier) in 2007. No female had officiated men’s professional football in Germany before her.

Ten years on, Bibiana Steinhaus has made history. She becomes the first female centre referee to be listed in any of Europe’s top five leagues. Steinhaus has been at the centre of big women’s matches such as the 2011 Women’s World Cup final, the 2012 Olympic women’s gold medal match as well as the women’s DFB Pokal final.

Should female centre referees officiate men’s football?

Despite Bibiana Steinhaus’ achievements, the question whether women should be seen officiating the men’s game still lingers. In men’s football where the pressure and intensity constantly forces referees to make blunders, should women really be competing for the limited referee positions with the men in the men’s game?

So much work has gone into promoting gender equality, especially in football; still, you can’t help but notice how female refs stick out like the proverbial sore thumb when officiating men’s matches. “Oh look, the ref’s a she” someone would remark while watching a men’s game.

The fact remains, there’s a marked difference between the men’s game and the female’s. Sandra Hunt who is a licensed FIFA Referee agrees. There’s a huge tendency of a referee being more under pressure when officiating the men’s game than a female’s. There’s also the ‘small’ matter of some players who can never see a female referee as just ‘the ref’ but as ‘the female ref’. That in itself explains the uncanny behaviour of some male players, managers and club administrators towards female centre referees.

Take an instance of the Franck Ribery incidence in Bayer’s 5-0 victory against Chemnitzer in the German Cup. With Bayern 3-0 up, as the Frenchman stooped to take a freekick, he cheekily untied the referee’s right bootlace. Guess the referee? Yes, it was Bibiana Steinhaus. One begins to wonder if Ribery would’ve done the same to a male referee under similar circumstances.

In 2015, during a 2 Bundesliga game officiated by Steinhaus, Fortuna Duesseldorf midfielder, Kerem Demirbay reportedly said to her: “Women have no place in men’s football.” After Steinhaus had sent him off. Of course, the player was severely punished and made to officiate a girl’s game to ensure he got the message.

My opinion

Football is a sport played between both male and female, but not together, at least professionally. We have the men’s World Cup and then the female World Cup. The same applies to the Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga, the FA Cup and any other football tournament you can think of.

Gender equality says the referee is the referee and should have nothing to do with his or her gender. To put it perspective; the same way a female can be in law-enforcement and command the same respect from everyone in the society as the male, so also should a referee.

I argue differently in the case of football. I’m all for gender equality, still, I believe it’s best if men are left to officiate men’s games while females handle women’s matches. If the game is played by all men, why have a ref with a different gender? Sounds quite ironical to me.

About the Author Kingsley

I am a football/soccer connoisseur who enjoys crafting interesting articles like the one you just read.

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