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Referees at Women's World Cup under fire

Female referees at the 2011 Women's World Cup have made some glaring errors, mainly due to what seems like a lack of experience. But experts say the match officials need support rather than more criticism.

Gyoengyi Gaal, referee from the Australia versus Equatorial Guinea game, blows her whistle.

Refereeing standards have varied greatly

Despite the host's premature departure from the tournament, there's no doubting that the Women's World Cup has been a clear success so far.

US goalkeeper Hope Solo celebrates with her teammates, after the US beats Brazil in the 2011 Women's World Cup.

The US team's relief after beating Brazil was understandable

There have been huge attendance numbers in the stadiums and the football on offer has been exciting too - the fear ahead of the tournament that poor goalkeeping would blow out results has remained unconfirmed.

But one thing that continues to meet criticism is the performance of the referees. The media clamor started with some particularly brutal matches in the group stages, then came "that handball" in the Australia versus Equatorial Guinea game. Sunday's quarter final between USA and Brazil also had its fair share of controversial moments - with a retaken penalty and a clear off-side leading to both of Brazil's goals.

Varying standards

"The main issue is that the difference in standard is too large", refereeing expert Urs Meier told Deutsche Welle. "The gap between a top female referee and a not-so-good one is very large."

Meier says that the differing standards are due to the conditions that female referees are exposed to in their domestic leagues. For instance, a number of female referees active at the World Cup officiate in third or fourth division men's league games, in front of small crowds.

"Bibiana Steinhaus is one of the referees who can clearly deal with the pressure of a World Cup. That's because she has gained experience in the Bundesliga", said the former FIFA ref.

The suggestion doing the rounds in the German media is that male referees should be used for the remaining matches of this year's Women's World Cup.

Male referees not the answer

"It's not the answer to get men refereeing the women's game," says Titus Chalk, a freelance journalist in Berlin who writes for football magazines FourFourTwo and 11 Freunde. "Female referees need to be given more support in order to raise their level."

Referee Bibiana Steinhaus blows her whistle during a football match.

Bibiana Steinhaus is one of the top female referees in football

Chalk says that the use of extra officials behind the goal would go some way to preventing the sort of mistakes that occurred in the Australia versus Equatorial Guinea game.

Researchers at Carlos III University of Madrid are at the tournament in Germany working in conjunction with FIFA on new technologies and methodologies to help better prepare both male and female referees in the future.

"The current debate surrounding the referees just shows how important women's football has become now in Germany", says Chalk. "The fans want the best possible standard of refereeing, to support the spectacle."

Urs Meier believes that the time has come to train up female referees to a top standard. "The women's game has come along in leaps and bounds recently. The referees have now got to get up to speed".

Author: Andre Leslie
Editor: Michael Lawton

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