Bibiana Steinhaus: Performance, not gender should matter

Bibiana Steinhaus entered history books yesterday, September 10, 2017 by becoming the first woman referee to officiate in a top European football league. She was the referee in the Bundesliga game between Hertha BSC and SV Werder Bremen on Match Day 3.  She became a celebrity and was trending on social media.  So far so good.  

B Steinhaus
Bibiana Steinhaus (Photo: Reuters)

But once this initial euphoria dies down is when we will get to know the real impact of her path breaking beginning. To begin with this is 2017 and yet we have to talk about gender equality. Not just in football, in sports in general but even in other spheres of life. That there exist a gap be it in opportunities, be it in equal pay, be it just the general perception.  Women are fighting on all fronts to find their footing.

However, I want to focus here more about the world of sport, the world I am familiar with.  As a sport administrator, I have come across attitudes that are patronizing, condescending, and downright, why exactly are you here to oh, poor you. I am sure there are many other women out there in the sport industry who would have many more stories to share.  Back to Bibiana though.  

That she has broken the glass ceiling is to be appreciated. It has to be celebrated. Because hopefully she has opened the doors for many other women out there who are interested in careers as referee at the highest level. And not just in football/soccer but other sports too. Well, cricket did see women umpires standing in for men’s games. But again, it is not yet a regular thing.  

So when are we going to see Bibiana again in action in the Bundesliga? More importantly, I wonder what will be the reaction if she makes a mistake in her next game or in future matches? Will the narrative read, oh what is a woman doing in the men’s game? Will the talk be about her gender or will she be given the same benefit given to other men’s referees – they are human after all and/or incompetent? Because even while her appointment was widely accepted all around, there were still some social media posts which highlighted the gender bias (the most common question – does she know the offside rule? C’mon, give me a break, there are many men who still don’t the exact rule and no, I am not the expert either).  

While we are on subject of mistakes, two recent high profile matches (both 2016-17 season) come to mind. One the round of 16 UCL quarterfinals between Barcelona and PSG at Camp Nou and the other the UCL quarterfinals between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich at Santiago Bernabéu. Both matches involved some questionable/debatable decisions from the referees and his assistants. But all the talk was about either it being human errors and/or incompetent officiating.  I wonder if Bibiana find herself in similar situation, will it all be blamed on her gender? I genuinely hope not.  

Also, hopefully to those who it matters the most – the players on the field, it is about their confidence in her as a referee and not about her gender.

As much as we celebrate Bibiana’s achievement (and it surely it has to be applauded), I just hope in future we concentrate on her performance (or lack of it) rather than talk about her gender.  Here is to many more Bibiana Steinhaus’ on football pitches at the highest level and hope to see her on pitch soon in the Bundesliga and other competitions.  

 

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Tragic accidents on the field of sport in social media times

One of the things that came out of the attack in London on the Westminster Bridge on Wednesday, March 22, was the tweet by London Metropolitan police asking people to use common sense and restraint in circulating photos and videos of the victims. It sure would have been disrespectful to the victims and their loved ones.

Another incident, this time a funeral of a celebrity parent and the grieving celebrity (Aishwarya Rai Bachhan, ex-miss World, model and actor) were in circulation. Another celebrity sibling took to social media to condemn this. She requested general public to not click and watch the photos. 

On the heels of these two events, one more, sadly followed.  There was no loss of life involved here but tragic nonetheless. While watching the Ireland-Wales FIFA World Cup qualifier on Friday, March 24, during the second half of the match Ireland captain, Seamus Coleman got injured. It was a bad tackle from Wales’ Neil Taylor. The injury was serious.  As is the case with such incidents being replayed while watching on live TV, it was a surprise when the commentator announced that out of respect and considering the grievous nature of the injury they would not show the replays.  To me, this was the most responsible and respectful response on the part of the network. 

This incident also took me back to another incident I witnessed on TV more than a decade ago when I had the privilege to be part of the 15th Asian Games in 2006 in Doha, Qatar. During the Games time (December 1 to December 15) , it was very busy and the Athlete’s Village (AV), which was our workplace, wore a festive look.  There was always that buzz, excitement throughout the AV during that time. From the moment you would clear the security and step into the AV, the festive environment would just pull you in. 

One morning while getting ready to leave for work, on TV, equestrian events were being live broadcasted. I do not follow or understand the sport of equestrian as such but here I had this particular interest because I was the liaison person with the logistics department for the NOCs. I was coordinating the movement of the horses, their passports, quarantine requirements and other such stuff. 

Back to the live equestrian Eventing competition on the TV, the equestrian athletes from participating countries were going through their obstacles and suddenly there was this athlete who fell from his horse while trying to clear one of the obstacles (it was the 8th obstacle).  While he was thrown down his horse fell on him. This was replayed again and again on TV.  I noticed it was a bad fall, but I couldn’t understand the commentary because it was in Arabic.  Only thing that baffled me were the replays. While it was still on, I left for work, thinking about the athlete and his injuries. 

When I arrived at the AV, I could sense something amiss, right from going through the security.  I entered the AV and it was missing its usual buzz and vibrancy.  There was an eerie silence. The AV wore a subdued look. After a ten-minute walk through the AV, I arrived at my desk. On arrival, my first question to my colleague was, “why is it so silent in the AV today?” He was surprised that I did not know the reason. He then told me about the equestrian accident and that the athlete, Kim Hyung Chil of South Korea, had passed away. I was stunned and shocked. 

Earlier in the day what I was watching I didn’t realize at the time was someone in their last moments.  There was that immense feeling of sadness about the loss of life and secondly that immense distress for watching that incident.  I just got that gut wrenching feeling and it was difficult to shake it out. 

Fast forward to 2017 to that Ireland-Wales match that I mentioned earlier in the article. The TV network decided not to replay the horrific tackle and injury to Coleman. My mind travelled back to the Doha incident and I now appreciated the network’s stance not to replay Coleman’s injury incident. 

However, that relief I felt, was short lived.  I saw Coleman trending on Twitter.  The videos and photos of that tackle by Taylor on Coleman was all over the social media. No, I didn’t click on any of it and decided to move away from that page. But that was my choice.  Just like it was the choice of many to share the videos and photos. Just like many to click and watch those videos and/or photos of that horrible incident. 

That made me wonder why do we have to record someone’s pain and grief? Why do we chose to watch that content, and especially if it involves a public figure/a celebrity? We live in the times where clicking photos and recording videos/audios are just a tap on handheld devices. I wonder what are we thinking when we record such incidents. And then go and share it on social media platforms. Why does someone’s grief become so palatable?  What makes us so insensitive to someone in pain that we actually want to see it?  For a moment, if we pause and imagine ourselves in that person’s shoes, would we liked to be recorded/photographed in our most vulnerable moment?  I believe the answer would be a safe no, at least for majority of us. 

So how do we stop this? And whether it is even possible to stop it?  Again, it is safe to say that to eradicate this issue is going to be next to impossible. Unless we show some self-restrain ourselves. Would education and awareness around this issue help? Probably.  Maybe introduce the dos and don’ts of social media specifically focusing on the subject of tragic incidents, grief and pain. This education should be for all – for children in school, for students in Universities and for employees at their work places.

While on road, if the intention to record is to gather evidence then by all means record/click photos but then hand it over to the authorities and refrain from sharing it on social media. For all those accidents on the field of sport, let those replays remain away from the fans and into the hands of investigative agencies. So that they can look at accidents in depth and arrive at conclusions to make the sport in question safe for its future participants.