Football: Referees with beards – that’s why they’re so rare

To: 05/04/2022 16:38

Beards of all kinds have long been common among professional athletes, while referees almost always look clean-shaven. Why in fact? A search for clues with curious and explosive details.

This quiz question poses problems for even the most nerdy football regulars: Name a Bundesliga referee with a beard. “Franz-Xaver Wack!” someone will surely shout. His mustache was also distinctive. Or: “Christian Dingert!”, who participated in the “Movember” campaign, in which men with pointed mustaches draw attention to the prevention of prostate cancer.

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But a referee with a full beard? This is where it gets difficult. And this, even if all the variants between the three-day beard and the bushy beard have been commonplace for years, even in professional football. Look at Lionel Messi, Mats Hummels, Jürgen Klopp… the list goes on.

Basketball referee Benjamin Barth defends himself

So what’s up with clean-shaven referees? did you miss the trend? Since Tuesday (May 3, 2022) at the latest, the question of why has taken on a more serious background. Basketball referee Benjamin Barth has made it public that he is no longer invited to Euroleague games because he refuses to shave his beard. Euroleague chief referee Richard Stokes urged him to do so, insistently. “I thought it was a joke at first, but he meant it very seriously,” Barth told Sportschau.

The reasons given to Barth are also surprising. Coaches and managers would not like bearded referees. And with facial hair, it would be too focused. You should know that Barth’s face does not look shaggy or extravagant. Instead, his neatly trimmed beard seems to belong where it is and nowhere else. Stokes’ shaving order was all the more curious.

Because of the full beard: the basketball referee was no longer allowed to whistle Euroleague games

04/05/2022 18:46

Lutz Wagner: “It’s an intervention in the personality”

Barth eventually defended himself legally and at least got an apology from Stokes and the Euroleague, including a promise that he would not want to set unfair standards in the future. In basketball, the subject is at least on the table. But what about football? Are there maybe similar ads out there?

Lutz Wagner in 1997 with a mustache

Image: dpa/Matzerath_Fabian

A call to Lutz Wagner, DFB referee training coordinator. He insists German refereeing is judged on performance, not appearance. He criticized basketball’s downfall as “personality interference”. He himself wore a mustache when he was a very young referee.

The Unwritten Law

So no official beard ban in the DFB. But why then all this clean-shaven skin around the whistles? In the scene, one can certainly speak of an unwritten law that the best referees must be beardless, please, says the sports show’s Alex Feuerherdt.

The publicist, podcaster (“Collinas Erben”) and referee instructor in Cologne refers to the expectation that referees are discreet and should convince with their performance. “Many referees, who are generally more conservative, view brightly colored shoes, long hair or eye-catching tattoos as unnecessary targets.”

Hairdressing experiences only after the career

Feuerherdt also refers to former referees like Urs Meier or Jochen Drees, who only let their previously short hair loose after their careers. Even Peter Gagelmann, who was once the hallmark of a strict brushed haircut, got carried away by casually combing his hair when he was a referee.

But Feuerherdt is also surprised by the rarity of beards, because these days they are no longer really noticeable. And after all: if you think long enough, you can also find a Bundesliga referee with a full beard – on the one hand with Markus Schmidt.

Markus Schmidt: “But don’t you want to whistle with that now?”

The 48-year-old recently passed the Bundesliga age limit (47) but still works as a video assistant. During the last four or five years of his long career (197 Bundesliga appearances), he walked the pitch with a beard of three days to two weeks. And in an interview with the sports program, he says that initially some people reacted quite irritated. A senior referee said at the time: “But you don’t want to whistle with that now?”

Yes, he wanted to – “and after two matchdays it was normal,” says Schmidt. He also hasn’t quite figured out where the reservations about beards came from. He recounts colleagues who sometimes wore full beards in private (quite to their advantage), but shaved clean on game days.

Official ban in minor league baseball

In other countries and sports as well, referees tend to clean shave. North America’s professional minor league baseball (minor league baseball) even officially forbids their umpires in the rulebook “moustaches, goatee or other facial hair”.

Discrimination debate in England

In English football, the stakes are high because of the powerful official David Elleray. The long-serving Football Association (FA) referee-in-chief will step down after the season. He was also investigated for allegations of racism.

He is seen as a bearded opponent and is said to have given referees proper advice. The daily “i” also sees this as potential discrimination against referees for whom beards are important because of their religious affiliation. All of Britain’s 40 professional referees in the top divisions are white.

Daniel Schlager: FIFA referee with a beard

Beard wearers between them: Niklas Stark (Hertha BSC, left) and referee Daniel Schlager

Image: IMAGO/photobooth/Taeger

And what about UEFA and FIFA competitions? Is an international career only possible with a shave, like in basketball? No one has complained publicly, and one person from Germany is encouraging: Daniel Schlager has been whistling in the professional field since 2015, currently with a subtle, modern full beard. Apparently, that didn’t harm the 32-year-old. He has been a FIFA referee since December 2021 and will therefore also represent the DFB internationally in the future.


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