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Opinion: Keep calm and let Bibiana Steinhaus do her job

September 10, 2017

Bibiana Steinhaus made history on Sunday as the Bundesliga's first female referee. As important as that is, we need to start treating it as a new normality rather than an exception, writes DW's Jonathan Harding.

Bundesliga Berlin vs Bremen
Image: picture-alliance/AP/M. Sohn

There will undoubtedly have been a few more butterflies than normal, but Bibiana Steinhaus was probably just happy to finally get back on the pitch.

Becoming the first female referee in the Bundesliga is a big moment - and one to savor. It says a lot about Steinhaus that she said before the game that others should decide whether her debut is historic or not.

On the one very obvious hand, it is. A glass ceiling has been broken in a sport played, run and reported on overwhelmingly by men. Steinhaus has shown that sometimes (not often enough) society can reward the merits of the individual rather than question their gender, background or race. The hope is that she is the first of many not just in football or sport, but across positions of authority in the world.

Deutsche Welle Englisch Fußball Jonathan Harding
DW's Jonathan HardingImage: DW/P.Henriksen

Read More: The hurdles Bibiana Steinhaus faced on her way to the top

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Steinhaus deserves to be recognized for what she is - a game changer (in both senses of the word). But her statements both before and after Sunday's match (see tweet below) also show just how much the referee wants to get on doing what she loves.

While the fact she has become the first female on a Bundesliga pitch is news worthy of reporting, it's important to assess her performance the same way we would every other fully qualified, experienced referee. Only then can we truly take steps towards making equality normality.

In that respect, she made an excellent debut while officiating Hertha Berlin's 1-1 draw with Werder Bremen. She gave a sensible advantage for Hertha's opening goal and correctly decided against two penalties for the hosts late in the second half. A perfect refereeing performance doesn't exist, but Steinhaus wasn't far off.

Hertha defender Sebastian Langkamp said afterwards he felt Steinhaus had done well but added that he wasn't surprised. That's exactly it. Were we really expecting such an experienced referee to struggle? Clearly top-flight football is a step-up, as it would be for any referee, but Steinhaus is well prepared for the occasion.

Before the game she was asked what headline she wanted to see afterwards. Her response was: "None, then all will be well."

She won't escape headlines, she can't. But when she inevitably makes the headlines again, let's make sure that her gender doesn't play a role.

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