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Image: AFP/Getty Images/F. Fife

'It should always be about the performance'

Sarah Wiertz
July 18, 2019

After making her first World Cup appearance in France earlier this summer, German referee Riem Hussein talks to DW about equality in sport, VAR and a personal record.


DW: You made your World Cup debut in France this summer. What did you make of the experience?

Riem Hussein: It was a fantastic experience. For FIFA, this tournament had the same status as the men's one. We prepared for the tournament at a nine-day seminar beforehand that included refereeing training games, and a lot of intensive work with the VAR. Everything about the tournament was enormous and to experience that was impressive. Refereeing games made it even more fun.

There were a lot of rule changes, and at a major tournament too. How did you manage that?

In theory, there were a huge number of changes. My fist thought was that I would perhaps forget about one or two of them in the heat of a game — but that was definitely not the case. We referees are supposed to, and ultimately did consistently implement the new rules. I think these changes are good for football and were made with the players and the game in mind. For example, a player must now take head straight to the sideline when being substituted, so as to maintain the game's flow and increase playing time.

What did you make of VAR?

Hussein's second game at the Women's World Cup was in front of her record attendance
Hussein's second game at the Women's World Cup was in front of her record attendanceImage: picture-alliance/foto2press

I thought it was positive. The video assistant referee is sort of a parachute, one that can save me from making mistakes. Moreover, the video ref increases the acceptance of referee's decisions among teams and spectators. In my experience, players have accepted the support of the VAR really well and several mistakes have been eliminated as a result.

There's been a lot of talk about the new rule that goalkeepers now are allowed to keep just one foot, instead of two, on the line. What do you think of that?

The rule was introduced to help goalkeepers. For VAR, such mistakes on a penalty are easy to spot in the pictures. They are the factual decisions like offsides. For fans, a few centimeters might be acceptable, but for VARs, who have to assess the pictures impartially, that can play no role.

You refereed three World Cup games: two group-stage games and one Round of 16 match. Which of these will stick in your memory?

Hussein refereeing a friendly match in September 2015.
Hussein refereeing a friendly match in September 2015Image: picture-alliance/augenklick/firo Sportphoto

All three games, in their own special way. The first was fantastic. It was Brazil against Jamaica in Grenoble. A sold-out stadium that was like a cauldron. Capacity was "only" 18,000, but the atmosphere was breathtaking. That game suited me superbly. It was back and forth, both sides were playing at a high tempo and wanted to win. I thought this game was a perfect start for me. In my second game, I hit my personal attendance record: nearly 50,000 in a sellout Parc des Princes Paris crowd as the US played Chile. That was special, because my family was also in the stadium — two of my siblings even made the journey. And taking charge of a knockout game in my third match [editor's note: Norway against Australia], in a game where both teams were battling to survive, was special because so much was on the line.

Germany were knocked out in the quarterfinals. Shouldn't that have increased your chances of refereeing another game?

After the Round of 16, FIFA halved the group of active refs still at the tournament. Of course, whether your own country was still in the tournament or not did play a role. But I'm very happy with my tournament, even if I belonged to the group that had to head home. I refereed three big and exciting games and got really positive feedback from FIFA and in Germany. I want to take this momentum into my future work.

Do you think it would make sense for female referees to work at a men's World Cup or vice versa?

I think in all leagues it should always be about the performance. Gender shouldn't play a role in this conversation. If a woman fills the physical criteria, why shouldn't she be allowed to be part of such a tournament?

Dr. Riem Hussein is a German referee of Palestinian descent who primarily works as a pharmacist. Before she became a DFB referee in 2005, she played as a striker in the second division in Germany. Hussein has been refereeing in the men's game in the third division since the 2015-16 season. She is the second German referee after Bibiana Steinhaus to work in the professional men's game. Hussein refereed three games at the 2019 Women's World Cup.

This interview was conducted by Sarah Wiertz.