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Germany’s first top-flight female ref amped to kick off first league match

Germany's Bibiana Steinhaus insists she is no feminist trailblazer as she prepares to become the first female ref in Europe's top leagues having already tamed Bayern Munich's stars.

Germany's first top-flight female ref amped to kick off first league match
Bibiana Steinhaus refereeing at a football game in August. Photo: DPA.

The 38-year-old is on the official list of Bundesliga referees for the 2017/18 season, which starts Friday, meaning she will become the first female ref in the top flight of Germany, England, Spain, France or Italy.

Steinhaus' first Bundesliga match has yet to be announced, but she oversaw Bayern Munich's 5-0 win at minnows Chemnitz last Saturday in the first-round of the German Cup and proved she can handle star players.

She gave Bayern's Franck Ribery a playful punch on the arm after the French winger cheekily untied her boot laces before a free-kick.

“She's strong, she has a lot of power,” said Ribery.

“It was funny, she played along and was in good spirits.

“You can have fun with referees, but it's also important that there's mutual respect.”

Steinhaus says her promotion to the Bundesliga is a “great incentive” and reward for her hard work, but shuns her role as a trailblazer.

“I never planned, and still don't today, to break new grounds of emancipation,” she said at a referee's training camp in July.

“I am only doing what I love.”

Steinhaus has taken charge of around 80 German second division matches since 2011, refereeing the women's final at the London Olympic Games tournament and this year's women's Champions League final.

She has already acted as the fourth official in Germany's top tier and shrugged off Pep Guardiola's attempt to put his arm around her shoulders when the then-Bayern coach remonstrated with her on the touchlines in 2014.

Unfortunately, the 1.81m Steinhaus has already experienced direct sexism on the pitch.

During a second division match in 2015, she sent off Hoffenheim's Germany international Kerem Demirbay, then playing for Fortuna Duesseldorf, who told her women had no place in football.

The remark led to him receiving a five-match ban by the German FA.

Steinhaus, who works with a fitness coach, acknowledges that refereeing in the Bundesliga will challenge her both on and off the pitch.

“I like to say that the Bundesliga is another step up, I have worked intensively and the speed is different,” said Steinhaus.

“Certainly, as a female referee, I will be under special scrutiny from the start of the season, especially from the media. I don't seek public attention and my colleagues know me well enough to know that.”

Steinhaus is a policewoman and in a relationship with English former top ref Howard Webb.

She can expect to have her decisions scrutinised by fans in football-mad Germany.

Claudia Neumann, Germany's first female commentator, experienced a sexist backlash on social media when she took the microphone for state broadcaster ZDF during last year's European championships.

“In football, which is the favourite child of German men, changes are about as welcome as an annoying bout of diarrhoea,” Neumann told SID, an AFP subsidiary.

A survey by Loughborough University has found only 3.7 percent of senior positions in European football are occupied by women.

Even in women's football, 10 of the 12 teams in Germany's top flight are coached by men.

Nevertheless, Steinhaus is relishing her chance to make history by blowing her whistle in the Bundesliga.

“It has always been my dream and I am delighted that it will come true,” she said.

READ ALSO: German policewoman is first top-flight female ref

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EXPLAINED: The Covid rules for attending German football matches

The German Bundesliga kicks off on Friday evening with a match in Mönchengladbach. Here's a run-down of the Covid rules for football fans itching to join the crowds at the stadium.

EXPLAINED: The Covid rules for attending German football matches
Crowds cheer at a match between FC Kaiserslautern and Borussia Mönchengladbach, on August 9th, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

All eyes will be on Mönchengladbach this evening as the Bundesliga season kicks off with a match against reigning champions Bayern Munich – and this time, a crowd will be present in the stadium.

READ ALSO: German football fans get green light to return to stadiums next season

With several states liberalising their rules for public gatherings in recent months, many football fans are looking forward to enjoying a lively atmosphere at football matches once more. 

There’s just one problem: there are different rules for different stadiums. Here’s what you need to know about the Covid rules before you book your ticket for any of the upcoming fixtures. 

How many fans are allowed in the stadiums? 

According to a recent decision by the federal and state governments, football stadiums around the country are allowed to fill half of their seats and sell up to 25,000 tickets to fans. 

Of course, how much this limit affects the overall atmosphere – and the football clubs’ bottoms lines – depends on the capacity of the stadium. In Borussia Dortmund this weekend, the full 25,000 tickets have been sold – but that only equates to 30 percent of the stadium’s full capacity.

READ ALSO: German football: Which Bundesliga club should I support?

Meanwhile, in the stadium owned by Berlin’s FC Union, selling just 11,000 tickets is enough to fill half of the available seats. 

What do I need to show to get in? 

That really depends on the stadium in question, although in general anyone over the age of six will need to show a negative test or proof of vaccination or recovery – the so-called ‘3G’ rule – to enter the grounds. But other clubs, such as FC Cologne, have decided to only permit people who are vaccinated or recovered to attend matches from August 28th onwards – with exceptions for people who can’t get vaccinated, like children and pregnant woman.

At Mönchengladbach’s Borussia Park stadium, however, unvaccinated fans can enter with a negative test, though visitors who’ve stayed in a high-risk or virus variant area over the past two weeks will be unable to enter – along with people who’ve had recent contact with someone who has Covid. 


If you want to see action like this at FC Cologne’s stadium, you’ll need to get your Covid jabs sorted first. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund has taken a middle ground. While the 3G rule applies in principle, only 1,000 of the available 25,000 tickets will be sold to people who are providing a negative test. The remaining 24,000 seats will only be available for those who are vaccinated against – or recently recovered from – Covid. 

If you’re not vaccinated and are keen to see a match, it’s worth checking on your local club’s website beforehand or sending them an email to double-check whether you will be allowed in. 

What else do I need to know about? 

You’ll need to bring a FPP2 mask with you to matches to wear in your seat and while heading to the bathroom or bar, and also observe social distancing rules – meaning staying 1.5 metres apart from your fellow fans.

In most states, you’ll also need to provide your contact details, which will be saved by the club and potentially passed on to local health authorities in order to monitor a potential Covid outbreak. 

Will these rules continue throughout the season?

That’s still an open question. If infection rates in Germany continue to rise or high-profile superspreading events occur at future matches, the government could potentially crack down further on sports events in autumn.

This could involve limiting the seat numbers even further, or (more controversially), introducing a ‘vaccinated-only’ rule for entering stadiums. 

READ ALSO: Should Germany bring in Covid restrictions for unvaccinated people only?

A recent outbreak of Covid in the Mainz football team has also dampened celebrations slightly in the run-up to the start of the Bundesliga – leaving club owners urgently calling for both fans and footballers to get vaccinated. 

Speaking to WDR ahead of the season’s start, FC Cologne’s managing director Alexander Wehrle said widespread vaccination was the best route back to normality – a message reiterated by Bayern Munich coach Julian Nagelsmann. 

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