Bibiana Steinhaus has refereed UEFA Women’s Champions League and FIFA Women’s World Cup finals, and in 2017/18 she became the first woman to officiate in the men’s German Bundesliga.
My father horst-dieter was a referee and I started refereeing with him. People didn’t expect the girl to be the referee so when we showed up as a trio – two serious, middle-aged guys and a young girl – they’d expect the girl to be the assistant referee, obviously. As soon as you stepped into the middle, they were like, ‘What’s happening here?’ but when you surprise them with a good performance as well, they totally accept it. It comes down to performance. The same thing happened ten years ago in the 2. Bundesliga when you had 22 referees and only one with a blonde ponytail. You recognise her much faster. If it’s only the one with the blonde ponytail making all the mistakes, then you think, ‘Oh, it’s her again,’ but if you perform right and treat people right, they treat you in the same way.
I really try to encourage girls to grow via refereeing. It’s definitely a personality-building hobby. You have to learn the law book, you have to take decisions, you have to communicate those decisions, and you have to deal with people who are not fine with your decisions and who want something different – so many aspects that help you so much in life in general. It’s really a good learning curve for life.
It is a question of whether you can fulfil the role and the expectations people have of you. It is not a question of what gender you are. What I say to young girls is you have to get ready to be in the spotlight if you decide to be a referee, because you are taking decisions and not everybody will be happy with your decisions. But if you’re ready and you want to perform, I think football, the sport itself, is ready to have the diversity. In fact, it’s the best time for young girls to become referees as we have more girls around. Even if we have just one girl in a division that you can see on TV, it makes it more obvious to everybody and helps the girls doing grassroots football, because people have seen a girl refereeing before. People think, ‘I’ve seen that before and they can do it.’
"BIBIANA STEINHAUS HAS REFEREED EIGHT MATCHES IN THE MEN'S GERMAN BUNDESLIGA IN 2017/18"
The speed and intensity in men's games are obviously different to the women’s game, but ultimately it’s just different and I don’t like to compare. The women’s game has developed so much in recent years. You can see how much faster it is, how much more strategy there is, how the girls are much more athletic than ever before. If you saw the Women’s Champions League final last year or the EURO last summer, and how much support these players had from the spectators and how much media interest there was, it shows how women’s football is growing and it’s perfect as a referee to be able to be part of it.
UEFA were way ahead of everybody else when they changed their elite referees’ programme in 2013 and invited the women to take these courses together with the men. We have a lot of lessons together and if you want to grow you have to work with the best people. You have to work with the best people around you, and exchange your ideas with top-level people, and this is what we’re doing. That’s definitely a positive message that UEFA has been spreading for years now.
Laura Georges twice won the UEFA Women’s Champions League with Olympique Lyonnais. Now at FC Bayern München, the France defender is also blazing a trail off the pitch in her role as general secretary of the French Football Federation.
I wasn't a young kid who wanted to be a professional athlete. I played football because I liked it. I wanted to do something besides going to school. I wanted to share something with other girls or other boys, to run around and not just stay at home. People started saying to me, ‘Maybe you can be a professional one day,’ but I never had that on my mind.
The more you show people what's going on in the world, the more people are aware and think, ‘Yes, I can do it, too.’ It’s not every day you see someone become general secretary of the French Football Federation, especially an athlete who’s still playing, and so it’s special. I think for many women it sends the message that women can do it, that women can have those types of positions.
My biggest influence is Lilian Thuram. I was once an intern at Clairefontaine, the place where the French national teams train, and I got the chance to meet him. We talked a little and he said, ‘Next time I see you, I’ll give you my jersey.’ I thought, ‘He’s joking!’ but a couple of weeks later, he gave me his jersey and we’re still good friends. When I was younger, though, it was different – I was comparing myself to the boys. I remember saying, ‘I wish I could have the same path as they do’ but now more and more women are role models. It’s really helpful for girls to have this so they can say, ‘Yes, we can do it too.’ Or if we’re talking about someone facing a struggle, girls can say, ‘Oh, she had a struggle like me and she was able to face it, so I’m going to be able to face it too.’ “I played football because I like it. I wanted to share something with other girls and boys”
"YES, WE CAN DO IT TOO"
Football has changed, because I see more and more people in stadiums. When I started with the national team, I was 17 and we were playing in small stadiums with people close to the pitch. Now we play in first and second division stadiums, and they’re full, and people are paying to come along because they want to watch us. I can see the difference in France but also abroad, and I hope we’ll have more and more professional teams. And when I say professional teams, I mean players getting paid for playing football, and playing on grass, because even at a high level we still have teams playing on artificial turf and players still doing jobs alongside football.
At Lyon, Jean-Michel Aulas was a special president and a special person. He decided, ‘OK, I’m going to invest in women’s football – it’s not about the money but about giving opportunities to women.’ The Lyon team went on to win titles and it was great for Lyon in general, for the image of the club.
The 2014 women’s world and European player of the year, former German international Nadine Kessler is now head of women’s football at UEFA with a remit to develop the game from the grassroots up.
So many areas around the women's game are keen to make the next step and I hope that girls will naturally gravitate towards the game, to enjoy the party. But I also hope that the general public will judge the game for what it is – and see women’s football as an important part of football. My ambition is that one day we’ll come to the point where we say women’s football is the greatest, most popular, most enjoyed female sport in Europe and hopefully across the world too. Our aim is to enable girls across our national associations to take part in the game, to enjoy it, to provide the expertise and infrastructure needed – and not only at this level but also in elite football, and to improve the whole professionalism around the game. We’re already much better, but there’s a lot of work still to do. The most important thing for me is to offer consistent help to an association where they can apply for funding and we can help them to integrate certain projects.
You always need to have a mixture of people and a mixture of opinions. The more diverse your group is, and the opinions this group shares, the better the outcome. I believe it’s really important to have different perspectives – sometimes, of course, women and men have a different approach, or different perspectives in general. Therefore, it’s really important to work together and to have female representatives in such roles.
"JUST PLAY THE GAME AND ENJOY IT"
Our new 'play anywhere' campaign wants to spread the message that no matter what the environment, you can just be creative, take a ball and play football – whether you’re on a beach, in the garden or maybe even in your parents’ living room! Take a ball and kick it around. It aims to get girls into competitive football and make them aware that even if all-girl facilities might not be next door, just play the game and enjoy it.
We need to help many more women take up coaching, to make coaching attractive to them, and to have as many qualified coaches in the game as possible. The coach’s role has such an impact, not only with regards to the tactical development of the game, but in terms of developing players as people. From a personality point of view, I believe the role of the coach as a mentor is more and more important nowadays.
Out of 16 coaches at UEFA Women’s EURO 2017 only six were women, but one of them – the Netherlands’ Sarina Wiegman – lifted the trophy.
I'm a coach because I've always wanted to teach. When I was a little girl, I really enjoyed Coach Development Project] as a really good taking part in all sports, and I knew from a very development because it means women feel Nadine Kessler’s vast experience as a player has been invaluable in her position at UEFA young age that I wanted to be a PE teacher. There weren’t any prospects for women to become football coaches back in those days, so I started off being a gymnastics teacher. But then the situation changed thanks to the launch of the Women’s Eredivisie, and there was a chance to become a coach, so I moved from education into coaching. I’d already gained my qualifications by that time, so I already had my level 1 trainer/coach diploma and was able to just keep progressing.
Football gas been dominated by men for a long time, and now women are entering all areas of the football world too, not just as coaches but also in other positions, including at clubs at they have opportunities to develop themselves as a coach.
It's really good that women are getting these chances and that it’s being encouraged so much. I also think that women need to seize these opportunities. I say, ‘Just do it – follow your dreams and do what you enjoy.’ Then there will be plenty of opportunities. I have seen lots of women around me with lots of qualities who can definitely coach at the highest level. If we want to improve our football then we need to be producing good coaches – and good coaches help with people’s personal development as well as helping them develop as players.
Switzerland coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg is one of only two female coaches to have won this competition, with FCR 2001 Duisburg in 2009.
In Sporting terms, we've got top athletes. Now we need our coaching expertise to improve as well to keep up. It’s important that women’s football has female coaches who have experienced all aspects of the game. The situation in women’s football is different. Not all the players are full-time professionals and we have players who have to combine football with a job and looking after a family.
I've experienced it myself – playing football at a high level, working full-time, bringing up my daughter for 15 years – and I think I’ve got a different understanding of my players. I also think there are things involved in an understanding on a woman-to-woman level that are just more obvious, maybe more intimate, and can be expressed better perhaps than in a male-female relationship. In many countries, there are lots of good women who just need encouragement and support to start training as a coach.