The history of women’s refereeing

The history of women’s refereeing

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    By Sonia Denoncourt

    YATR North America Academy Director Sonia Denoncourt

    The German Bundesliga yesterday provided another stepping stone in women’s refereeing history when Bibiana Steinhaus became the first female referee to officiate a match in a top European league, taking charge of Hertha Berlin’s 1-1 draw with Werder Bremen in Berlin.

    And she did a fine job on the field. Congratulations!

    Steinhaus, 38, has built up a wealth of experience by refereeing 80 matches in the 2nd Division since 2007 and was the Fourth Official on several occasions in the Bundesliga, but this was her refereeing debut in the top flight.

    On a smaller scale but just as important in Scotland, Lorraine Watson also became the first female referee in Scottish men’s football.

    This is a new era, it is changing slowly and more doors are opening to women referees around the world.

    Women refereeing has not been around for a long time but certainly the last few decades! Let’s get some facts rights:

    1991 – A team of three women officiated the 3rd place match of the 1st Women’s World Championship in China. They were not yet accredited by FIFA.
    1994 – The first time four women referees are appointed to the International FIFA list (called Linesman at the time). Sonia Denoncourt, Ann Blackwood Kim Chalmers and Linda Black were appointed on the “men’s” list.
    1995 – First international women’s list. The debut of divided categories for specialized referees and assistant referees. 26 women referees and 31 assistant referees were appointed.
    1995 – The 2nd Women’s World Cup in Sweden. Six referees were women.
    1996 – First Women Olympic Games. Sonia Denoncourt (CAN) became the first woman ever to referee an Olympic football match when taking charge of Germany v Japan in Atlanta, USA.
    1997 – First world men’s match officiated by a female referee in the Paulista Championship in Brazil between Sao Jose and Palmeiras. Sonia Denoncourt had the honor at the age of 32.
    1999 – The 3rd Women’s World Cup in the USA with a complete crew of all female referees (32) for the first time in a big international competition.
    2003 – The 4th Women’s World Cup took place in USA
    2003 – Nicole Petignat (SUI) became the first female referee of a men’s football match organized by UEFA.
    2005 – FIFA hire Sonia Denoncourt to “finally” start a specific woman refereeing program worldwide. Debut of an international program and support for the 208 affiliated countries.
    2005 – First FIFA technical instructors’ course to include 5 women instructors. (Sonia Denoncourt, Katriina Elovirta, Gitte Holm, Sandra Hunt, Ingrid Jonsson)
    2006 – Men’s World Cup in Germany. First attempt to have a women assistant referee being part of a men’s trio from France but unfortunately, she failed the fitness test. No female ever refereed a men’s World Cup final stage match.
    2007 – 15 – Three more Women’s World Cup took place in China (07), Germany (11), and Canada (15). 2015 saw an increase of 8 teams to 24.
    2016 – The Uruguayan referee Claudia Umpierrez, 33, became the first woman in history to take charge of a First Division football match in Uruguay, refereeing Central Español’s v Tacuarembó
    2017 – The number of female international referees increases from 26 in 1995 to about 350 worldwide today. The female assistant referees increased from 31 in 1995 to 440. There are about 3350 FIFA referees (men and women) worldwide.
    2017 – Seven women to be part of a support group for the U17 Men’s World Cup in India: Ok Ri Hyang, Gladys Lengwe, Carol Anne Chenard, Claudia Umpierrez, Anna-Marie Keighley, Kateryna Monzul, Esther Staubli

    There is a lot more to the history but this is it in a nutshell, the stepping stones! We also must remember Wendy Toms (ENG) who really made her mark in England some years ago!

    There is still plenty of work to do and a mentality to change around the world to genially accept women in a non-traditional profession. For the society to progress, we need open-mind people, accept the difference, promote performances over gender, get gender equity and equality in sport, stop stereotypes, stop homophobia, stop discrimination and embrace diversity, pay respect and allow freedom of choices. Still much needs to be said and done!

    Football – England v Iceland – Women’s International Friendly – Roots Hall, Southend – 17/5/07
    Referee – Wendy Toms

    Success comes with hard work and dedication and I applaud all female referees in the world who compromise so much of their personal life and suffer tremendously to get at the top.

    A refereeing career is not an easy choice of path to start with, and the road has been bumpy for everyone who choose to break these barriers. The stories are incredible around the world.

    We will see much more “First” in women refereeing as the women’s game is becoming more accepting than ever before. I would say…it is about time! After all, we are in 2017!

    We need more women referees, yet we need better quality and better training as the game is improving fast and the players and coaches become professional.

    So much for the good old male chauvinist Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who would have turned in his grave. The man was a declared opponent of women’s participation.

    “A female Olympiad would be impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and improper,” he said.

    “Pope Pius XII was of similar opinion regarding female participation in sports.”

    Football reflects the image of society habits and customs! The gender battle continues….