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At the women's World Cup, Germany will see Bibiana Steinhaus - the nation's top female ref - ply her trade at the top level of the women's game. She'll be putting forward her case for a birth in the men's Bundesliga.
At 32, Steinhaus has had an unparalleled career
A woman refereeing in Germany's national soccer league? While it may have seemed unthinkable a few years ago, championship-winning coach Jürgen Klopp says that the time has come for that to change.
"The time is always right for good female referees, because the gender of the referee is absolutely secondary," he says.
His fellow coaches from the second division have also got used to female refereeing, or, more specifically, to Bibiana Steinhaus, the blonde police commissioner who, since September 21, 2007, has regularly refereed professional games in Germany. She is known for being commanding, authoritative and on the ball - skills, she says, she acquired during her time working as a police officer.
"I think that both professions are my calling. They both center on making decisions and being able to communicate," Steinhaus says.
Steinhaus won the prize for best referee in the 2007-08 season
From defender to referee
To begin with, the 32-year-old Steinhaus says she never planned on becoming a referee. She first earned experience as a defender for her hometown club SV Lauterberg. It was her father, also a referee, who eventually convinced her to pick up the whistle. An unparalleled career has followed, which, to this day, Lauterberg President Klaus Henkel has followed closely. He points out that at the age of 17 she was already refereeing in the district league.
"Once she proved herself, it all went very quickly. First the district and then association and now the Bundesliga," he says.
Former referee Eugen Strigel was immediately impressed when he met Steinhaus, then 18, for the first time at a seminar in Duisburg. Today, Strigel is her mentor and watches her from the stands during many of her games. He still aids Steinhaus by analyzing video recordings with her following her matches. Steinhaus completed the male performance tests "without any problems," he says, adding that at 1.81 meters tall, she is also physically very strong.
"I think she is the world's number one female referee. She has really established herself in the second division," he says.
Only two percent of referees in Germany are women
Since 2005, Germany's leading female ref has gone international, adjudicating for FIFA as well as in the women's editions of the Bundesliga, the German Cup and the UEFA Champions League.
One of the most notable highlights of her career has been refereeing at the 2009 Women's European Championships in Finland. She has also been active in the men's game since 2008 in the German Cup and the Bundesliga as the fourth official on the touchline, and has been awarded referee of the year four times in a row.
Former Bundesliga referee Herbert Fandel attests Steinhaus’ quality, and believes there is no getting past her. She is an "icon of women's refereeing," he asserts, adding, however, that she is also only human. "One of my main goals is to not exhaust her," he says.
The right judgment at the right time
Steinhaus is Germany's selection for the World Cup
With women making up only two percent of the 80,000 referees in Germany, professional female whistleblowers must be supported at all levels of the game. This is why FIFA has spent years preparing female referees for the women's World Cup in Germany this year, an event which is sure to be a major career highlight for Steinhaus.
Steinhaus says she hasn't been fazed by the hype surrounding her, and that, like any referee, she wants to be judged by her performances on the pitch. If this is the case, she says, female referees will receive the respect they deserve.
"I think that for the soccer players the gender of the person blowing the whistle is completely irrelevant, so long as it's blown at the right place and the right time," she says.
Author: Olivia Fritz / ccp
Editor: Darren Mara