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Women refs get more respect than men, says Germany's football referee Bibiana Steinhaus

June 06, 2019

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Bibiana Steinhaus is the first and only female referee to officiate in one of top men's leagues in the world. — AFP
Bibiana Steinhaus is the first and only female referee to officiate in one of top men's leagues in the world. — AFP

Bibiana Steinhaus will not kick a single ball at the Women's World Cup, but she will be one of the stars of the show nonetheless.

The 40-year-old is the first and only female referee to officiate in one of the top men's leagues in the world, having made the step up to the German Bundesliga two years ago.

A police officer by trade, Steinhaus exudes a calm, good-natured authority on the pitch which has seen her rise up the ranks to become one of the most respected referees in Germany.

Having officiated in the second division since 2007, she has over a decade's experience in the men's game, and has been calling the shots in the top flight Bundesliga for the past two seasons. She is also the only referee to have taken charge of both the World Cup and Olympic finals in women's football.

This month's tournament in France will be her third Women's World Cup, and Steinhaus considers the tournament to be a career highlight.

“To be able to referee at a World Cup is the biggest thing for me. When you lead the teams onto the pitch and hear the national anthems, you get goosebumps,” she told AFP subsidiary SID ahead of the tournament.

For Steinhaus, though, the job is ultimately the same regardless of whether she is officiating a Women's World Cup or a men's Bundesliga game.

“My personal preparation is the same for every game. I sit down with my team and take a good look at the two teams' strategies. Good, intense preparation allows me to react to unpredictable situations on the pitch.”

'VAR will work well'

Steinhaus' cool-headedness earned her global plaudits in 2014, when, as fourth official, she famously faced down a furious tirade from then Bayern coach Pep Guardiola during a Bundesliga match.

Guardiola was accused of being patronising and aggressive on that occasion, but Steinhaus has claimed that men are generally more respectful towards her than towards her male colleagues.

“As a general rule, players tend to be more reserved when faced with a female referee,” she said in a recent interview with Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.

“There are always emotions in football but emotions do not mean flipping out or being unfair. That is something I cannot accept,” she told SID.

In that regard, her style of officiating is not unlike that of Howard Webb, the former Premier League referee with whom she has been in a relationship for several years.

Like Steinhaus, Webb is a qualified police officer, so both know the difficulties of juggling a life of law enforcement on and off the field.

Steinhaus' task is arguably the harder, however. Unlike in England, referees in Germany are officially amateurs. While they receive payment, they do not enjoy the employment benefits of their colleagues in Spain and England.

Steinhaus herself has called for more professional structures for German referees.

“A system like they have in England or Spain could be a good example for us. I am sure we will take big steps very soon in that regard,” she said.

In recent years, she has been on the front line of perhaps the biggest step forward yet for referees, as one of the active video assistant referees (VAR) in the Bundesliga.

VAR will also be used at the Women's World Cup, and despite teething problems in the Bundesliga, Steinhaus is a convinced advocate of the technology.

“It will work well in France, I am certain of it,” she said.

Others may not be so sure, but faced with the calm, decisive authority of the pioneer police officer, it would be a brave person indeed who disagreed with Bibiana Steinhaus.