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Bibiana Steinhaus – first female referee in Bundesliga – retires from her career

Big refereeing news: Bibiana Steinhaus will retire as national and international referee. The German Super Cup on September 30th 2020 is the latest game of her career. “Like many people in the time of the corona situation, I reflected on some things and reassessed them”, she explains her decision on the DFB website. “After a very trusting and constructive conversation with Lutz Michael Fröhlich, the sports director of the DFB elite referees, I decided, after carefully weighing many factors, to end my national and international career as a referee.” She does not give more info, as she wants to focus on her last game first.

Bibiana Steinhaus was the the first female referee in the Bundesliga. “It has always been my dream to be active in the Bundesliga”, she said to German media when she started. “I am very pleased that this dream will come true”. She is the first center referee in one of the five biggest competitions in Europe.

After her active career she has been VAR in the Bundesliga and since the 2021-2022 season she’s been appointed as women’s select group director of referees’ body Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL).

Women’s World Cup 2019

Steinhaus is followed by Stéphanie Frappart from France in 2019. Both referees are active at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. The first game for the German referee is France – Norway, a clash between two teams won won their first match.

Pioneer in a men’s world

Back to her Bundesliga debut. Her actual debut was in September in the game between Hertha BSC and Werder Bremen. In the meantime lots of media write and talk about her or about the fact she is the first female referee in the Bundesliga. New York Times describes it as “reckoning with the multidimensional state of being a pioneering female in a male-dominated field”. She is happy where she is now, but feels uncomfortable with all the attention on her as person.  Bibiana Steinhaus hopes the attention from the fans goes back to watching football. “I don’t think I embrace it”, she says. “I deal with it.”

Bibiana Steinhaus
Bibiana Steinhaus. Photo courtesy DFB.

The 38-year-old policewoman from Hannover is one of four newcomers on the DFB referee list for next season. Because she got great feedback and information from the referee department during the season, she wasn’t surprised referee boss Lutz Fröhlich called this week. “But when he informed me in our telephone call about the decision of the referee’s commission, I was left quite speechless”, she says in an interview on the DFB website.

And what then happened.

“Disbelief, joy, happiness, relief, curiosity, I do not know. It was simply a roller coaster ride of emotions.”

Great incentive to keep working hard

“It is on the one hand a confirmation for the hard work  on the way to this promotion”, she says. “And on the other hand it’s also a great incentive to continue my hard work.”

Steinhaus wants to thank the support she got from everyone. “The referee’s work is – unrestricted – teamwork. Both in the field and in the background we work closely together”, she says. As referee you need good decisions from your assistants, but also a good framework from your football association that helps you with all aspects of the job. Referees have a personal coach, a fitnness team that supports them. “Without this mostly invisible support refereeing at top level would not be possible!”

Bibiana Steinhaus

Female refs normal at highest level

The referee from Hannover is looking forward to the new season. “Certainly as femal referee I’ll be under special observation, especially from the media, at the beginning of the season. It is my goal that female referees in professional football become normal and that they simply will belong to the game.”

Intensive communication with players

Elite referee committe chairman, Lutz Fröhlich, says Steinhaus has a ‘special style of game management’. Steinhaus explains to DFB how she tries to manage a game: “My style is characterized by intensive communication. To exchange mutual expectations at an early stage gives all parties a good guideline. I try an empathic approach to my conversational partners and thus create an encounter on equal terms.

But she stresses that female referees do ‘hardly anything’ differently than male referees. She says that all referees need to judge match incidents based on the same Laws of the Game, with the same outcome as much as possible. And all refs have the same prerequisites. “But of course, every referee has a different style of managing a game.”

Dedication as ref pays off

Steinhaus hopes this will have a positive impact on new referees or girls who think about refereeing. She mentions some of her female colleagues who also are climbing up the ladder. Her colleague Reim Hussein is currently a 3rd Bundesliga referee and Katrin Rafalski is assistant referee in the 2nd Bundesliga. “Commitment and dedication will abosolutely pay off.”

There’s one think that is most important to Steinhaus. “Above all, I want to be judged based on my performances, not because I’m a woman. I wish all referees a successful season ,where referees are not often the center of attention.”


  • Wolter Wagter

    There is no person on the soccer field with a title called “centre referee”. That title is NOT in the Law Book. So stop using that title.

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      Just noticed this. I know about terms and LOTG, but sometimes it’s good to talk the language of fans too. That helps give them a better understanding. I’ve no issues with talking about the box, as I will then also mention the term penalty area. They can learn something then, but sometimes you need to refer to their language too.

    • Miriam Martin

      Every match official is a “referee” whether we are in the center as the designated referee or on the touchline as AR; this overlap in language makes it difficult to distinguish between the two in written text. To say center referee makes it immediately clear that Bibiana was the first female referee to be assigned to a role that is not an assistant referee. Whether or not “center referee” is in the LoTG, it is a useful term to clarify which of the 3 possible roles each referee played.

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