21.10.2021, 12:5821.10.2021, 14:20
Franziska Wildfeuer has been the official FIFA referee since January, but the 27-year-old had to wait almost ten months for her first appearance. On Thursday the time has come when she whistles for the game between Wales and Sweden at the U-17 women’s European Championship qualifier in Sweden.
Born in Bavaria, she moved up as a FIFA referee at the beginning of the year because Bibiana Steinhaus-Webb ended her career. Wildfeuer is currently whistling in the women’s Bundesliga and the men’s regional league.
In an interview with watson, Wildfeuer now talks about the difference between women’s and men’s football, how she behaved as a player towards referees and what difficulties there are in recruiting young people from referees.
Watson: Ms. Wildfeuer, do you like to be right and do you keep things tidy?
Franziska Wildfeuer: (laughs) As a referee, part of it is that you want to create law and order. But in general, my goal is to keep the game in order. But it’s also about communicating with the players to steer the game and avoiding excessive harshness.
You yourself whistle in the women’s Bundesliga and the men in the regional league. What differences do you notice there?
Basically, 22 athletes compete in both constellations who are pursuing the same goal. That’s why I have the same job as a referee: to keep the game on track.
Still there will be differences, right?
The men’s game is more physical in stature alone. They go into the duels a little harder. On the other hand, women are tougher in another matter. “
Women do not lie on the ground as long as men and thus lose less playing time. Other than that, I go into the games with the same preparation.
But if the duels are conducted differently, do you also have problems changing the evaluation of the duels?
This is now automatic and I don’t have to be aware of it. At first, this change was a little more difficult for me.
Are there differences in addressing the players?
My feeling is that I communicate more with men. Women are not quite as tangible because they are quicker in their heads when the next game situation occurs. Men are more accepting of the things I say. This also helps me calm the minds.
Do you prefer to whistle with men or women?
Both are the same for me. The main thing is that it’s a soccer game and I can take over the management.
They seem to be very good at the helm. You have been the official FIFA referee since January. What has changed for you since then?
The focus is now even more on the athletic endurance ability. I invest more time in appropriate training units and now train five to six times a week. I can only do this because my partner supports me and we also do sports together. In addition, there were also international missions.
So far they have only been the 4th official there. When will that change?
I’ve been cheering myself for the whole year and feared that I would be the first female FIFA referee not allowed to whistle an international match in the first year (laughs). But only recently I found out that I can whistle a U17 European Championship qualifying tournament for women from October 22nd to 28th.
What was your reaction when you found out about it?
The anticipation was huge, but I also feel a certain tension. But the desire is of course also extremely high to finally take over the game management for an international game.
It will have taken 15 years from her first referee certificate to her first international game. What was your motivation back then?
In the beginning my mother motivated me to do it. A friend made the certificate and she said: ‘Come with me.’ Then I had the rule book in front of me and made the certificate. At that point, refereeing was of secondary importance to me because I was still playing.
When did that change?
When I was 15 or 16, the question arose whether I would switch from the boys ‘team to a girls’ team. At that point, I decided to focus on refereeing.
How did Wildfeuer behave towards referees?
I think I was a terrible player. When I was twelve to 15 years old, I often thought that I knew more than the referee because I already had the license. I moaned a bit and got yellow cards for it.
Especially in the amateur field, it is not always just complaining. There are always physical attacks on referees. Did you have to gain such experience yourself?
Fortunately, I haven’t been affected yet, but I know of a fellow referee who was physically attacked. I have absolutely no understanding for that. The referees work on an honorary basis and decide to the best of their knowledge and belief. Violence, but also racism and other forms of discrimination have no place on or next to the football field or in our society.
Do you think that it is precisely these phenomena that make recruiting young referees difficult?
I can well imagine.
How can you counter this?
It is important to educate and make it clear that violence is not a solution. Of course, such measures can also take away the fear. But there are also other options for winning referees or creating sensitivity for the topic.
In Schleswig-Holstein, for example, there is the referee internship. Interested parties are taken by the hand and can get an impression of the refereeing from different angles. Even if they don’t end up becoming a referee, they are made aware of the referee’s situation.
“The men’s game is more physical in stature alone. They go a little harder into the duels.”
How do you get involved in recruiting young talent?
Because of my active refereeing career and work life, I can’t be as active as I would like. But I’m excited about every girl and boy who start refereeing. When young girls ride with me and help on the sidelines, I always try to pass my enthusiasm on to them.
Both in the amateur and professional field, referees depend on ratings in order to advance. Bibiana Steinhaus was stuck in the 2nd division for a long time and was not allowed to move up to the Bundesliga despite good performances. Do women have a harder time in refereeing?
Sometimes the next step takes three, five or maybe ten years. In addition, it always depends on what phase of life you are in and whether you can manage everything professionally in such a way that the next step in refereeing is possible.
In other words, do you sometimes think: ‘If I were a man, I would be whistling in the second or third division by now’?
No not at all. I think it’s a fair rating system. But it is also important that you consistently show good performance over several years, then you will be rewarded with advancement.
“Bibiana Steinhaus is the pioneer in the women’s field in Germany.”
What role did Bibiana Steinhaus basically play for referees like you?
She is the pioneer in the women’s field in Germany. Accordingly, she is a role model for many women because she is the first woman to make it into the men’s Bundesliga.
Is she your role model too?
No, I always answer that when asked. I watch a lot of different things from referees, be it body language, communication or the attitude towards the game.
What did you copy from Bibiana Steinhaus?
Definitely their communication skills. From Dr. Felix Brych’s physical fitness. But it doesn’t always have to be professional referees. A district league referee always did breathing exercises before games to help him concentrate. I still do that now and then today.