Tanja Kuttler and Maike Merz are unique: the two sisters are the only German women’s duo to officiate games in the men’s national handball league – and now also at the World Cup.
“We fought for a long time to referee men’s games. We had to do a lot of convincing,” recalls Maike Merz, “but a lot of officials just didn’t think we could do it“. The team of referees from Tettnang has now learned better and was therefore nominated for the men’s handball world championship. As the first German women’s duo. “It’s a great sign that it no longer matters which gender you have”, says Tanja Kuttler happily, “that you are simply nominated based on your performance and that we have the same chances.”
The hard way to the handball world championship
That wasn’t always the case, remember the sisters, who themselves were active handball players for years: “We both got our referee’s license at 16 with colleagues, some of whom hadn’t even played handball. So they had basic requirements that we automatically brought with us , were missing. And after that it was quite normal that they got the stronger games than us just because they were men. The sad thing is actually that it was normal for us at the time too.”
But the times have changed. There are now female referees in many men’s leagues in other countries, and in 2017 an all-female team of referees from France took the whistle at the men’s World Cup. But German women as referees at such an event – that has never happened before.
World Cup nomination is a family success
“The nomination came relatively boringly by e-mail,” says Maike Merz, “but of course we were still very happy. It’s just an honor”. They had heard about it before the women’s European Championships in November, where the two were involved. Thank God so early, says Maike Merz, because that way “we were able to plan and organize our babysitters”.
Being a mom and a referee works – but only with a lot of support and planning: “If we had gotten pregnant one after the other, we would have been out of business for so long that the way back would have been very difficult,” says Tanja Kuttler, ” our parents have supported us since the beginning of our career and without them it wouldn’t have worked,” adds her sister.
Equality on and off the field
Together they have now made it. They’re at the men’s World Cup, which begins in Poland on Wednesday. At the German national team’s friendly against Iceland last weekend, the two got a foretaste of what awaited them there: “We have the feeling that we will be treated in the same way as our male colleagues,” says Maike Merz, ” the players don’t care if I’m a man or a woman. We get yelled at too, like men and that’s a good thing.” “What has happened in Germany in recent years is excellent,” agrees her sister, “equal rights have been implemented 100 percent.” Now only one thing has to happen: “We women have to prove that we stick with it and rightly deserve the trust.”