Women decipher rules of football


How many women know what offside means? Nationwide courses on football rules are turning Swiss women into football experts.

This content was published on May 21, 2008 - 09:37

When it comes to the beautiful game, most women don't bother shouting alongside the men. But with Euro 2008 rapidly approaching, the girls want to be in on the game too. Various clubs and organisations are offering crash courses so that women can join in the conversation.

"Men don't actually know everything about the football rules, they just shout louder," Meta Berger, who took part in the three-hour course at Migros club school in Basel, told swissinfo.

"The class gave me an excellent foundation to understand the game and now football matches have become much more interesting. Since the course I watch football differently, especially when the referee blows his whistle."

Thirteen women and one man attended the evening course, entitled "Football rules for women", which cost SFr50 ($48). It was led by Stephan Dünner, a referee instructor who is giving classes in Basel and Bern, while other colleagues do the same in Biel, Thun, Aarau and Olten.

As part of the lesson a handout with the 17 football rules is distributed for the women to take home – a kind of "cheat sheet" for when things get hot on the pitch.

It includes the different scenarios for penalties, free kicks, fouls, corners and of course the all-important and much-disputed offside rules.

Mixed class

The women who attend Dünner's class generally range from 20 to 65 in age and come from all walks of life.

"It's a wonderful change for me to be able to instruct women – 95 per cent of the referees I train are men," he said. "My pupils on the Migros course are highly motivated, very active, lively and interested in learning more about football."

Many of the eager students are urged to attend by their boyfriends and husbands, who seem to like the idea of women having their say in what was for a long time a man's domain.

"I watch the big matches for the World Cup and the European Championships with my boyfriend but my role is now no longer limited to 'get me another beer from the fridge'," said Michelle Jauslin, who found the Migros course in Basel very helpful.

"There are more and more women attending football matches. We used to go to look at the men, now we go to watch the game!"

Confidence boost

Alongside the various hand signals used by the referee, the students learn some football background such as the size of the pitch and the height and width of the goal.

They also get a potted history lesson on the origins of football. How many people actually know that football comes from China?

The class starts off with a typical football scene to get participants in the mood. Each person picks a country and they remain that team for the rest of the class. The most popular team is Italy, according to Dünner – in seven out of ten cases it is picked first.

Dünner reckons the offside rules cause the most confusion (see box). Women are also very interested in the meanings of red and yellow cards and the gravity of a player being given one.

It's not easy explaining the 17 rules – and the many exceptions – in a three-hour class, but judging by the women's reactions afterwards they feel confident enough to enter into heated football discourse alongside the men. The fact that most men won't admit when they don't understand something is another matter...


"The rules aren't that difficult," said Jauslin. "It's noticing quickly enough that is the challenge. When the game is really fast, you have to follow it like a hawk."

Migros isn't the only place offering women a chance to get to grip with football. Various organisations across Switzerland are gearing up for Euro 2008 by running courses, from the Centre for Deaf People in Zurich to the Women's Organisation in Grosshöchstetten, canton Bern.

Together with the local football club, the women's group is organising a grill evening where a professional referee will explain football rules. Theory will be put into practice as the football club members demonstrate live on the pitch the various scenarios.

Watch out men: the women are coming.

swissinfo, Claudia Spahr in Basel


In a nutshell, a player is in an offside position if he is in front of the opponents' last defender (not including the goalkeeper) when the ball is passed to him. This means a player cannot hang around the opposing goal waiting for the ball.

Note that a player in an offside position is only committing an offside offence if, in the opinion of the referee, he is involved in active play "at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team". This subjective interpretation is what can lead to differences of opinion.

A player is not committing an offside offence if he receives the ball directly from a throw-in, goal kick, corner or back-pass.

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