Our ‘equally amazing’ sport has just seen another groundbreaking moment as two of the top FIH female umpires took charge of men’s games in the EuroHockey League Round One events, held in the Spanish city of Barcelona last weekend.
Michelle Meister of Germany and Belgium’s Laurine Delforge became the first female umpires to officiate in the EHL as it kicked off the new 2018-19 season.
In another first, Margaret Hunnaball of England and Denmark’s Janne Camilla Nielson were also appointed as officials. Hunnaball was one half of the Umpire’s Manager team and Nielson was one of four Judges.
Speaking about the appointments, FIH Executive Board member and EHF President Marijke Fleuren, said: “Being a member of the IOC ‘Women in Sport’ Commission, I really celebrate these women’s appointments in a men’s tournament. In this way, EHL gives another best practice of breaking down barriers: appointing female umpires to men’s international ranking matches. Doing the job together is my motto and now we are doing that!”
Both Meister and Delforge have been getting in some practice at umpiring men’s games. Meister has been umpiring in the German top two men’s divisions for a number of years. What began as an occasional appointment has turned into a regular fixture in her umpiring commitments and now she is one of the most frequently appointed umpires on the circuit and has taken charge of 24 top tier games and 52 in the second division.
“Men and women process emotions differently and management of emotions is, of course, a big part of our job. This is why I will probably handle the exact same situation in a different way depending on whether I am umpiring men or women.”
Laurine Delforge, Umpire
Speaking to Stephen Findlater for the website , she said: “Last season, I had more men’s than women’s matches to umpire. In that sense, it’s already a regular thing. Only our Final Four are reserved for the gentlemen – so far!”
For Delforge, who took on her first men’s Honor Division game in 2012, umpiring men’s games is borne of necessity. Because she is also a player in the top women’s league, she is not allowed to umpire women’s matches in Belgium. As a result, she umpires Under-19 Boys or the men’s games, depending on her own schedule. She has also umpired the Red Lions in several practice games, including a re-run of the Rio 2016 Final between Belgium and Argentina.
Michelle Meister of Germany before umpiring a men's EHL match Photo Credit: EHL
So is there a difference in umpiring men’s and women’s matches? For both Meister and Delforge the speed of the game is the main difference. “The speed of the game is the main difference so you have to change slightly your positioning during the game,” says Meister. She adds that she finds managing the men’s game is easier, particularly as men tend to play until the whistle blows more than women do. This makes it easier to play the advantage and see how the move pans out.
Delforge agrees that there is also some difference in how the game is managed. “Men and women process emotions differently and management of emotions is, of course, a big part of our job. This is why I will probably handle the exact same situation in a different way depending on whether I am umpiring men or women.”
Both umpires enjoyed a successful weekend umpiring at the EHL. Meister said: “It’s a great honour to me and recognition of our hard work. And I’m very proud and I’m really looking forward to umpiring the men’s on an international level as well.” Delforge added: “I hope it’s just the start and others female umpires will soon also get the opportunity to feel ‘equally amazing’!”