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Esther Staubli is the only female referee to resign in the Super League

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Esther Staubli is the only female referee to resign in the Super League

After three seasons and 28 appearances in the highest Swiss football league, Esther Staubli is ending her position with immediate effect. The departure is due to a conflict in the football association’s referee department.

After 19 years as a FIFA referee, Esther Staubli announced her immediate resignation on Monday.

Allstar Picture Library Ltd / Imago

On February 18th, Esther Staubli refereed the Super League game between the Bernese Young Boys and Stade Lausanne Ouchy. It is their eleventh appearance in the current season of the top Swiss league. It stays that way. The 44-year-old from Bern resigned with immediate effect on Monday.

The move is surprising. As recently as last Friday she was still working as a referee in the Women’s Nations League. There she will lead the semi-final between France and Germany. Three days later it’s over.

“With the game between France and Germany, my work as an active referee comes full circle with a final international highlight,” Staubli is quoted as saying in the statement from the Swiss Football Association SFV. By taking part in the Nations League finals, she was able to realize one last dream. “That’s why I decided to break new ground and end my career as a referee.”

With Esther Staubli, a Swiss pioneer is leaving

With the resignation of Esther Staubli, the long and successful career of a top Swiss referee comes to an end. The Bernese was a FIFA referee for 19 years – giving her the highest status that referees can achieve. She took part in the Women’s World and European Championships three times in a row. In 2017 she directed the European Championship final and in 2015 and 2020 the final of the Women’s Champions League.

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Staubli’s palmarès can also be seen in men’s football. She led a total of 28 games in the Super League. There are also 10 appearances in the Swiss Cup. And she is also no stranger to the international stage of men’s football.

In 2017, she became a pioneer in top-level football: she was the first female referee ever to be used in a FIFA men’s tournament at the U-17 World Cup in India. Last year, Staubli also became the first Swiss woman to referee a men’s senior international match – the European Championship qualifier between Azerbaijan and Sweden.

The resignation has to do with a conflict in the association

Esther Staubli’s track record is recognized by the SFV. “What Esther Staubli has achieved for Swiss refereeing is almost impossible to put into words,” says Sascha Amhof, head of the referee department at the SFV. Staubli was a role model and a figurehead. “She is proof that as a woman you can make a difference in men’s football,” says Amhof.

Esther Staubli herself did not want to reveal any motives, and Amhof also does not want to comment on it. That raises questions. It is unusual enough that a referee does not resign at the end of the season or at the end of the calendar year. In addition, an international highlight will take place in our own country in mid-2025 with the Women’s European Championship.

It is therefore not surprising that the resignation has a solid reason and cannot be attributed to the knee-jerk assumption that is described as “It’s a Man’s World”. And: Staubli recently received good marks after Super League games and was not the target of any polemics on the tabloids.

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The reason for the end is probably that the 57-year-old stage manager and trainer Markus Nobs, the former referee and referee chairman, recently abruptly left the association after differences of opinion. Nobs is Staubli’s life partner and was, among other things, employed in the top referee department, which Daniel Wermelinger leads. The latter simply said on Tuesday evening: “No comment.” When asked, the SFV also gave this brief statement. But undoubtedly one is linked to the other. Nobs leaves, and a little later Staubli leaves too.

The Super League loses its only female referee

For the Swiss Super League, the departure of Esther Staubli means that refereeing will once again be a men’s job. This means that the league is returning to the situation that had already been a reality for 12 years before Staubli’s debut in 2021 – since the resignation of the first Swiss referee Nicole Petignat.

Nicole Petignat was the first woman to referee men’s games in the Swiss Super League.

Peter Schneider / Keystone

Similar to Staubli, Petignat is also considered a pioneer in Swiss refereeing. In the 1990s she was the first woman to referee men’s games in the Super League. This meant that Switzerland was far ahead of many other leagues in Europe. In Germany (2017), France (2019), Italy (2022) and England (2023), female referees were not an issue in the top leagues until a few years ago. No woman has ever refereed a game in the Spanish La Liga.

Petignat regrets that after Esther Staubli’s resignation the top Swiss league is again without a referee. “Esther Staubli lived for football,” says Petignat. Petignat does not want to speculate about the reasons for Staubli’s resignation. However, she criticizes that the football association does not do enough to promote female referees.

Petignat particularly addresses the demanding fitness tests that referees have to complete on a regular basis. Unlike in Germany or France, for example, in Switzerland these are not adapted to the performance of women. For Petignat, this is the main reason why a woman rarely makes it into the top men’s league in Switzerland.

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The lack of female referees is a structural problem

Sascha Amhof puts Petignat’s statement into perspective. The fitness tests could certainly be a challenge for referees. But they didn’t prevent a career in men’s football. According to Amhof, this is shown by the two referees who are still in action in the Challenge League – the same requirements apply to referees in that league as in the Super League.

Amhof sees the lack of female referees more as a structural problem. “We have 122 female referees in Switzerland – out of a total number of 4,800 referees,” he says. It is therefore clear to him that women need to be supported.

“One of Esther Staubli’s legacy is that she was always committed to supporting young women,” says Amhof. The SFV wants to build on this foundation – especially before the European Championships in Switzerland. For example, he is planning a special support program for female referees.

It remains to be seen whether this program will produce new female referee talent in a timely manner. In any case, Sascha Amhof is certain: “This time it won’t take 12 years until a female referee is used again in the Super League – also thanks to Esther Staubli.”

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