First female referee in the Bundesliga
The 38-year-old police officer named Germany’s referee of the year six times
She boasts extensive experience in both men’s and women’s football
Bibiana Steinhaus became the Bundesliga’s first female referee on Sunday when she took charge of Hertha Berlin’s match against Werder Bremen.
The 38-year-old police officer has been named Germany’s referee of the year on six occasions and has officiated 80 matches in the second tier of German men’s football since 2007, as well as regularly overseeing fixtures in the women’s game. To mark this historic occasion, FIFA.com took the opportunity to interview her.
FIFA.com: Congratulations on officiating in the Bundesliga for the first time. Do you believe you are a better referee than you were last year? Bibiana Steinhaus: Thank you very much. Referees develop throughout their careers just like players do, and in any case, I have one more year’s experience under my belt now.
Do you consider yourself to be a pioneer, or do you simply want to officiate Bundesliga matches? My gender is completely irrelevant to my colleagues. As referees we are all measured based on the exactly the same criteria, and naturally this includes our performance. One excellent development, for example, is that one in four match officials at the upcoming U-17 World Cup in India will be women – based purely on performance criteria.
You must also have experienced some negativity over the years because you are a woman. Negativity is the wrong word. Every experience I have takes me forward, enables me to learn and expands my horizons as an individual, as a personality and also as a referee on the pitch – and I feel extremely fortunate to be able to do that.
How would you describe your personal style? Referees make a name for themselves with the quality of their decisions and their personality on the pitch. Making the right decisions is important – fundamental in fact – but referees also need to communicate and interact well with club staff, players and, of course, their fellow match officials.
Do you prepare specifically for a match or do you prefer to know as little as possible ahead of games to ensure that you can remain as impartial as possible? I have heard about both approaches from different referees. Although I’m also aware of both of these options, I personally prefer to prepare specifically for a match. I like to be as ready as possible without forming any kind of bias. Intensive preparations give me a chance of anticipating the next step in a match as quickly as possible.
Are you particularly meticulous about these preparations? Football has changed over the years and everything has become much faster, so we referees also need to keep on top of these developments.
What are your memories of officiating the finals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011 and the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in 2012? I have fantastic memories not only of these games but of the entire tournaments. We had terrific teams of match officials, a pool of around 50 to 60 referees as well as the ‘team behind the team’. We all had a great and successful time, shared the experience and worked extremely hard in advance to have the opportunity to take part in these competitions. Experiencing a World Cup in your home country is wonderful.
It is striking that many referees talk about team spirit, even though the public generally consider the man or woman in the middle to be something of a lone wolf. That is such a pity! Although you usually see four of us at a match, we’re actually part of a much larger team. As I’ve already mentioned, there are around 50 referees at any given tournament as well as approximately 30 members of the team behind the team. We work extremely hard to ensure that we can perform at our best as a group of match officials and create the ideal competitive conditions for the players.
Many people often only notice the main referee and not their assistants. Officiating only works as part of a team. We need to work together to make the right decisions, as football is so complex nowadays. When it comes to the offside rule, for example, we have to consider whether a player is offside and if his position on the pitch means he has an influence on the goalkeeper, to name just one scenario. A team of match officials needs to communicate closely and extremely quickly with each other. Nobody can make these decisions alone!
You will no doubt be aware of the film ‘Referees at Work’, which makes the importance of communication between the officials very apparent. Yes! That film is a great example of how complex and exciting a match official’s job is. We’re not lone wolves – we’re team players.
What would be your tip for young referees – especially those just starting out? I hope you always enjoy going about your work and see refereeing as teamwork, share your experiences and exchange views with your colleagues.
Having now achieved your major ambition of refereeing in the Bundesliga, what targets can you set yourself now? I take things one match at a time. I’ve been a referee for more than 20 years now and during that time I’ve experienced many wonderful things but have also had to overcome a few setbacks. I’m delighted and grateful to have the chance to officiate in the Bundesliga.