Today in Budapest they will host the Women’s Champions League final. Are you still excited about this game?
Maike Merz: First of all, the joy is incredibly great. Plus, the emotions aren’t as bad as, for example, when we were on TV for the first time. Because sometimes the knees tremble. But you get used to it. Nevertheless, there is and must be a certain dose of emotions before such a finale. This is something unique and huge.
They have both been on the field as referees for 20 and 18 years respectively and have been whistling together since 2008. Today you belong to the elite composition of the German Handball Federation and you are active in the international arena. How did the decision to pursue this career come about?
Tanja Kuttler: I don’t want to be that old (laughs). We really didn’t want this. We started more out of necessity. We are both total club members, we were youth coaches and when there were no referees – which is still a problem unfortunately – we entered the game. It was a necessary evil to keep our sport going. The fun came later when we stopped playing alone and became more passionate about it.
Looking back, how would you describe your path?
TK: In the beginning, women were completely exotic. Even at the lowest level, no one could believe that we were the judges. We were just not trusted, so our path had many more turns than our colleagues.
MM: At first we didn’t really get any support and they didn’t want to take advantage of us. It was difficult and it became more pleasant for us only when we realized that there are people who want to support us and help us develop. Then it was like a sport and competition, because then we had a chance to advance and move on.
How much does it help that, with Jutta Ehrmann-Wolf, a woman heads the jury for the first time?
TK: I think she moves and does a lot. But that’s because it carries the spirit of the times, and not necessarily because Jutta is a woman who has faced obstacles in the past. Other countries, such as France, show us equal treatment, and we in Germany are now at the top of the list. We have made tremendous growth over the past 20 years and things are going well.
One issue that is often considered a disadvantage is family planning. But you solved it right by taking a child break after the World Cup in Japan in December 2019.
MM: This is obviously a disadvantage, but nobody can help it. However, men can also be absent for six months if they injure themselves and then come back. And we were never really away from handball and still watched games and attended courses. I think you just need the right environment to dare to take this step. At least we’ve shown it can work.
TK: This is an important point. At first, we thought a lot about what this meant for our career, and then, when we were looking for a conversation, we realized that these fears were completely unfounded.
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However, coordinating a family with numerous business trips is certainly not always easy.
MM: It’s difficult. You need to be well organized and need family support, starting with men and ending with in-laws. At the same time, it is something beautiful. We are on maternity leave and therefore have a full time job. Handball gives us a great equalizer that we can do for ourselves. That is why many friends envy us.
The work itself is not necessarily something to envy. Starting with the hostility of the fans.
TK: Crowded and noisy halls are part of the sport. There’s nothing worse than wondering if your viewers are already asleep or gone.
Meanwhile, on the pitch, sometimes it’s about calming down players. What’s the best way to do this?
TK: It depends on the type. Some people need a clear message, others need more attention, and some people just don’t pay attention to it. But it also depends on our daily form and how much our behavior affects our concentration and performance. If it doesn’t calm down at all, we’ll invite you to our locker room later so that we can discuss the problem calmly. It also helps us because it allows us to better understand the other person’s perspective. After all, we are all handball players.
Is there anything in the game that you don’t like at all?
TK: I don’t like it when it gets extremely disrespectful. For example, if someone comes too close to you or gets too loud. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen often.
MM: I’d rather be shouted out than laughed at. True to the motto “oh girl.” Feeling that you are not being taken seriously.
Both men and women are whistling. Where is the difference?
MM: It’s hard to say because it always depends on the appropriate class and team. The matches of the women in the Champions League are very similar to those of the men in terms of sport and fun. But the biggest difference is the attention or media environment.
Bugs are part of the game on all sides. How do you deal with bad decisions?
MM: In the game, we quickly learned to check it off. It makes no sense to try to compensate yourself for something. After that, we see it a lot in a movie, and especially when it comes to the game situation, I still carry it with me. But then we analyze a lot and try to find the reason so that we can do better next time.
They talk about the referees, if not mentioned it was a good performance. It’s a pity in itself, because then recognition is lacking, right?
MM: Ah, we say that not enough scolding is enough praise. There is often positive feedback from players and coaches. It’s not public, but we’re happy anyway.
TK: Over the years, we have also learned to judge ourselves well. It helps the psyche and strengthens us tremendously. And so far no one has managed to stop us from whistling.