How has Bibiana Steinhaus performed since her historic Bundesliga debut?
When Hertha Berlin played host to Werder Bremen on Bundesliga Matchday Three, history was made. Germany's top-flight witnessed its first game officiated by a female referee. It was a proud day for women in football, not just in Germany. How well has Bibiana Steinhaus performed since achieving her dream?
Ex-footballer. Policewoman. Referee. Steinhaus is a woman of many talents. Her achievements in sport have ferried her to the limelight. Nearly 40, she still possesses the athletic acumen to perform her duties maximally.
A referee's job is not an easy one. No matter how they try, accusations are still heaped on their doorstep. Many fail to consider the man in the middle is human, not a mystical god who can do no wrong. That's Lionel Messi.
Just as Andreas Christensen can make a mistake that gifts the mystical god a goal against a side that had previously been immune to his powers, one wrong call from the ref can turn a match on its head too. Even worse. It can decide a title. The difference is, while Christensen is forgiven almost immediately, the poor ref endures a cannonade of criticism and could face a petition against him from the losing team. If that ref is a her? Well.
To escape the howling mob, referees do their best to avoid becoming the match's star attraction. In the DFB Super Cup, Steinhaus couldn't avoid the cameras, courtesy Franck Ribery. The Bayern winger untied her bootlace then caressed her face when admonished. Steinhaus played it down afterwards but it was an incident that never would have happened to a male referee.
In her debut, Bibi did not let it happen again. She was able to exert herself on the game, ensuring the 22 ballers adhered to regulations while doing their business. For someone like Hertha Berlin’s Per Skjelbred, who failed to do so, the iconic ref took swift, firm action.
Steinhaus has gone on to officiate four more Bundesliga games: Schalke 04 v Mainz, FC Cologne v Hertha Berlin, Hoffenheim v Stuttgart, and Borussia Mönchengladbach v Augsburg. Her five games this season have lacked controversy if they didn't all pass incident-free. Bibi has awarded a total of nine yellow cards and one penalty, to Hertha Berlin at Cologne on matchday 13. No red cards have been forthcoming as yet.
Without mincing words, Bibi has done admirably well. I didn’t expect less from someone with her pedigree, anyway.
Why did it take so long?
Bibiana Steinhaus made her debut at 38. None of the serving 23 Bundesliga referees made their debut so late. The closest, 39-year-old Frank Willenborg, took his bow at 37.
Bibi has been a FIFA-badge referee since she was 25. She’s officiated games at the highest level of women’s football. The long list of big matches on her CV includes the FIFA women’s World Cup final in 2011, the 2012 Olympics Women’s gold medal match, and the UEFA Women’s Champions League final last year. Bibi has also been a notable face in the German second tier, 2.Bundesliga, where she has patrolled the pitch since 2007.
With such an impressive resume, it’s a surprise the Bundesliga referees committee took a dozen years to consider her. Clearly, she's had to prove herself over and over, unlike her male counterparts. Though she won't tell you, Bibi has been hindered by prejudice.
For decades, women have been working in law enforcement, held public office, and done remarkably well when handed equal opportunity. Somehow, football has trailed behind in terms of officiating.
Credit must be given to the Bundesliga for (finally) giving Steinhaus a chance. There should be more female officials coming through in other top divisions. Maybe the FA will give Sian Massey-Ellis an opportunity. England hates being second to Germany in all things football. Whoever steps through the door she has opened, though, Bibi’s performance shows there’s nothing to fear.