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What is the Difference Between Refereeing the Men’s Game and the Women’s Game?

As part of our continuing effort to service and educate our membership, each Thursday the U.S. Soccer Communications Center will provide an informative article from one of its departments.  Once a week, we will post an article/paper/essay that will hopefully enhance your enjoyment and knowledge of the game of soccer - on and off the field. Each Thursday will bring a new article, and on the first Thursday of each month we will bring you an article from the Referee Department. This week's article is written by one of the world’s most respected female referees, Sandra Hunt.

What follows is a portion of a recent article that Sandra Hunt wrote for FIFA.  Hunt has been working as a FIFA official since 1999.  The Bellingham, Washington, native worked the 1999 Women's World Cup and the 2000 Olympic Games, and recently officiated at the 2001 Asian Women's Championship in China in December.  Earlier today (March 7) Hunt refereed the Algarve Cup final between China and Norway in Portugal.

"What is the difference between refereeing the men’s game and the women’s game?"
by Sandra Hunt

As a woman FIFA Referee with many years of experience refereeing men’s amateur, professional and women’s international soccer matches, I am often asked, “What is the difference between refereeing the men’s game and the women’s game?”   “Is there a difference?”  To that question I answer a resounding “Yes.”   In my opinion, to successfully referee women’s matches a referee must understand some fundamental differences between male and female soccer players.

Prior to the kick-off of the WUSA in 2001, my professional league refereeing experience consisted only of men’s professional soccer.  My experience refereeing women was much less than my experience refereeing men.  Early last season I found I needed to make a few adjustments to the positioning I used for men’s soccer to successfully referee women’s soccer.

Generally referees can expect to run wider in a women’s match, as play does not move up and down the field quite as rapidly.  Estimates are that the distance covered by a referee is similar in a women’s game compared to a men’s, and the work rate of the referee should be comparable since it is necessary, in general, to position oneself wider during active play.

At most goalkeeper punts and goal kicks, it is recommended that referees position themselves opposite the Assistant Referee in the same half of play as the goalkeeper or the team kicking the ball because the ball ordinarily will not travel into the opponent’s half of the field. Throw-in’s require observation early in a match to determine how far the ball can travel.  Many women players have the ability to throw the ball as far as men.

Free kicks also require consideration for referee positioning.  Male players have much more success on free kicks using their physical strength, while in women’s soccer free kicks generally involve intricate passing or great precision.  In addition, it has been noted that women’s games are typically made up of more short passes than a men’s match.  I attribute much of this to the physical strength differences between men and women.

So to answer the question, “Is there a difference?”  I say, “Yes, different.”  In my opinion, one is not better than the other, just wonderfully different. As football fans realize their sport is played by players of another gender who participate with the same skill, passion, enthusiasm and intensity, they too will be drawn to appreciate and embrace “the differences” which make this the beautiful game for everyone.

For more information, please contact Carol McGuire, U.S. Soccer's Referee Programs Manager.  Carol can be reached at, or 312-528-1241.