BERLIN — After a decade in Germany’s second division, Bibiana Steinhaus will make Bundesliga history this season by becoming the first woman to referee in the country’s top flight.
The 38-year-old police officer is among four referees to have been promoted by the German football federation (DFB) into the league’s elite group of 24.
"For every referee, whether man or woman, the dream is to be able to referee in the Bundesliga. I worked very hard toward that goal and had some setbacks over the past few years, so I’m very happy about the referees’ commission’s confidence," Steinhaus said when her promotion was announced in May. "It shows that the performance-principle also applies in the field of referees."
The daughter of a referee, she began by officiating women’s games for the DFB in 1999. Steinhaus then became a FIFA referee in 2005 and earned her place in the second division in 2007, as the first female referee in German professional football, before securing her latest promotion.
During that time, Steinhaus has handled women’s World Cups and European Championships, along with the gold medal match between the United States and Japan at the 2012 Olympics in London. Last June, she took charge of the women’s Champions League final between Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain.
Of her 80 matches in Germany’s second tier, all but one went off without a hitch for Steinhaus. After sending off Kerem Demirbay in 2015, the then-Fortuna Duesseldorf midfielder reportedly told her: "Women have no place in men’s football."
Demirbay was roundly criticized for the remark and handed a three-game ban with two further games suspended. Duesseldorf also made Demirbay referee a girls’ game to ensure he understood the message.
Demirbay apologized both publicly and to Steinhaus directly for his comment, and said he was "very happy that she accepted my apology." The 24-year-old player is likely to meet Steinhaus again this season if she takes charge of any games involving his current club, Hoffenheim.
However, Steinhaus is already aware that she may be treated differently to other referees. During Bayern Munich’s game against Chemnitzer FC in the German Cup last Saturday, she had one of her bootlaces untied by Bayern winger Franck Ribery as he pretended to put the ball in place for a free kick.
She laughed it off by giving Ribery a couple of playful punches in response, but it is debatable whether the France winger would have untied the bootlace if he had been dealing with a male referee.
"She laughed, that’s positive," Ribery told broadcaster ARD afterward. "It was a joke, but you always have to respect the other."
It wasn’t Steinhaus’ first run-in with someone from Bayern. As the fourth official during a league game in 2014, she shrugged off Pep Guardiola’s hand from her shoulder as the then-Bayern coach got animated over a decision.