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Girls & Women

Meet the First Ever Female Referee in a Major European Football League

Pxhere/ Creative Commons

European premier league football has finally welcomed a female referee into its ranks, with the debut of Germany’s Bibiana Steinhaus.

Steinhaus — a trained police officer — made history for women in football as she took charge of this weekend’s Hertha Berlin draw against Werder Bremen, in the German Bundesliga.

"I am delighted that this great challenge for my team and I is finally happening,” said Steinhaus.

She has had to work her way through the ranks, spending six years officiating second-tier games. But her ability has finally been recognised, and she is changing perceptions of women in both professional male and female football.

Support for Steinhaus has been unprecedented, and respect for her skill has shined throughout the Bundesliga with Bremen coach Alexander Nouri commenting that "she deserves it for her great performances."  

She has a substantial amount of experience under her belt, with experience of refereeing the first round German Cup as well as this year's Women's Champions League final.

And it is this hard work and skill that has led her to be recognised as one of Germany’s top 24 referees.

"I'm happy. It's all the same to me if a man or a woman is refereeing — the main thing is that they do the job well,” said Hoffenheim's Julian Nagelsmann .

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While her promotion to Bundesliga football has been positively received, Steinhaus has previously been the target of sexist and demeaning comments while refereeing.

In 2015, she was told that “women have no place in men’s football” by then midfielder for Fortuna Duesseldorf, Kerem Demirbay.

But Demirbay got his comeuppance. He was sent off, by Steinhaus, and later given a three-game ban with two further games suspended. Duesseldorf also took action as a club against their player and ordered Demirbay to referee a woman's football match as an educational experience for him. Let’s hope he now understands a little more about gender equality!

In the build up to the historic match, Steinhaus explained to FIFA officials that her gender is “completely irrelevant” and that we should look out for the U-17 World Cup in India where one in four match officials will be women, “based purely on performance criteria.”

Judging women on their skills and ability rather than their gender is a refreshing change in football, and will hopefully inspire more women to join the sporting world.

Steinhaus’ amazing achievements in the male-dominated sport have raised the profile for female referees within major league football and given hope to other rising stars throughout Europe.

Recently, Lorraine Watson took charge of Scottish League Two game and told BBC Scotland that it was “brilliant.”

“There was absolutely no reaction, they just treated me the same as they would any other referee,” she said. “When they disagreed [with decisions], they shouted at me just the same as if it was a male in the middle.”

For Watson, the only way is up.

"The next level for me would be category one, it would open the door for me to do anything up to the Premiership," she said.

Hopefully, Watson will follow in Steinhaus’ football boots and we will one day see her in Premier league football equivalent to the Bundesliga.


For now, we say congratulations to Bibiana Steinhaus! You’re definitely this week's woman of the match.