Recently, we have seen laws and regulations put in place to ensure that at some levels of sport the participation gap between men and women is becoming smaller and small. But, other gender gaps are even slower to see progress within the sporting community. For example, the fact that there are so few women in referee and umpire positions in both male and female leagues.
Bibiana Steinhaus was the first female referee in European elite men’s soccer, and she was only given that position in late 2017. She had to work for years in lower leagues to earn respect to be allowed to progress up within her carrier. And, even though she is now at the highest possible level in her field, she still works part-time as a police officer to support herself financially, while her male counterparts do not need to make such a choice. Although it is a shame that she had to work an additional job, it may be the work she has done in policing that made her the ideal candidate to be the first female referee. That line of work shows the public and other officials that she knows how to handle tense and aggressive situations and that she can make the tough calls under pressure. Her typically masculine job as a police officer helped her break ground in an even more masculine discipline.
Officiating positions for women are opening up slowly and others like Steinhaus are being given opportunitiess, but a new struggle is being defined for them in their work in the form of harassment from fans and other officials. From sexist signage and chants to and sports commentators doubting their ability to follow a “men’s event,” this limits their enjoyment of their jobs. Work by Nordstrom and Warner (2016) found that this hostile environment eventually leads to high levels of drop out of those women who could manage to earn a spot in a man’s world.
Steps must be taken to implement strategies to solves these barriers to females participation in sport at this level because their presence is so valuable. Restricting women from officiating sport will limit the competition as a whole because the organizations will be cutting themselves off from a large pool of excellent talent. There is nothing stopping women from knowing rules and nuances of a game and developing a constant knowledge for an ever-changing game, which are the only true skills needed to be a well-equipped official. There are no genes that separates the sexes in these abilities.
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