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Want better officials? Hire more women!

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We’re missing half the qualified candidates.

England v Spain - UEFA Women's Euro 2013: Group C Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images

Every fan in every league in the world will tell you the same undeniable, indisputable, incontrovertible truth: theirs are the worst referees on the planet!

The Professional Referee Organization officials get a lot of guff here in MLS; sometimes they deserve it, sometimes they really deserve it. Much of the time they call quality games, especially if your team wins. Sometimes they help your team; sometimes they don’t.

This is not, however, a PRO referee-bashing article. Those, I’m sure, will come later in the season when they steal results from RSL. This article, instead, poses a couple of simple questions. Are we missing out on half of the officiating pool? Could we improve our referee pool by hiring, targeting, and developing more female officials?

PRO Referee fitness standards as of 2015

MLS

  • Referee - Men’s FIFA Referee
  • Assistant Referee - Men’s FIFA Assistant Referee
  • Fourth Official - Men’s FIFA Referee

and

USL

  • Referee - Women’s FIFA Referee
  • Assistant Referee - FIFA Assistant Referee (Men or Women’s) (1)
  • Fourth Official - FIFA Referee (Men or Women’s) (1)

Now, let’s be clear. These are the fitness standards, not the standards to become a referee; however, they certainly demonstrate a clear gender bias. Why, exactly, are there different standards for men’s and women’s referees? The official referee standards on referee certification do not stipulate gender. Historically, though, female referees are scarce. And here’s another thing.

“No woman has ever refereed in the [men’s] World Cup, a fact that did not change in Brazil.” — Morganne Gagne, Women in Refereeing

Why? Why does the list of PRO referees only contain men? There are women on the assistant referee list. Could some of them be on their way to the top level? Are there really no qualified female referees out there PRO could hire? Is men’s soccer so much more difficult to officiate that there needs to be a distinction? I very much doubt it.

So here’s my argument. MLS is still a young league—its first season was in 1996. PRO is a very young organization—it was founded in 2012. As soccer is a burgeoning sport in the US, they should be on the cutting edge of on-field officiating—MLS and PRO are part of the pioneering troupe for video replay. I would love to see qualified women as head referees in MLS. It would be a benefit to the league and US Soccer.

Korea DPR v USA: Quarter Final - FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Canada 2014 Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Germany has Bibiana Steinhaus. US Soccer had Kari Seitz, the only human to have officiated in four World Cups. She retired in 2013. There’s no question that there are extremely talented female officials. Why are none of them in the top echelons of PRO and officiating MLS matches? This could be an MLS and PRO selling point. They could scream to the world, look at us! We’re not crossing the line and we’re including everyone!

More than that, it will show more young girls that, YES, you can do this. You can become one of the top officials in the world. You can dedicate your life to the sport in more ways than just as a player. There are places you can go. Heights you can reach. Goals you can achieve. Imagine a qualified referee out there managing the match, keeping pace, and acting as a role model to all of the watching girls in the stands and at home. That’s a powerful flag to wave.