Michelle Meister and Laurine Delforge will become the first female umpires to officiate in the EHL at ROUND1 in Barcelona in October as the world’s best club hockey competition.
It is one of the new developments this season in the EHL with females officials also appointed as Margaret Hunnaball is forming one half of the umpire’s manager team with Hamish Jamson and Denmark’s Janne Camilla Nielsen will be one of the four judges.
Welcoming the new development, EHF President Marijke Fleuren is excited to see this come to pass.
“Being a member of the IOC ‘Women in Sport’ Commission, I really celebrate these women’s appointments in a men’s tournament. In this way, EHL gives another best practice of breaking down barriers: appointing female umpires to men’s international ranking matches. Doing the job together is my motto and now we are doing that!”
Meister has been one of the top umpires on the world stage for the last ten years or so, officiating at the indoor World Cup in 2011 and the Champions Trophy in 2012. She has gone to umpire at the last two outdoor World Cups as well as the 2016 Olympics.
For Meister, she says she is delighted to be part of the EHL ROUND1 team and is looking forward to the challenge: “I was and still am very happy. I had a big smile on my face! It is a great honour and, above all, an appreciation of what we do to receive the appointment.”
Delforge, meanwhile, has umpired both the 2016 Olympic final and the 2018 World Cup final. In addition to being a top umpire, she is a top class player and has represented Belgium internationally indoors.
“Being presented with the opportunity to umpire men’s games on the biggest club competition in Europe is such an honour and a privilege. Sharing it with Michi makes it even more special as we have started our international career at the same tournament [Euro Under-18s in Belgium, 2008] and shared so many precious moments since then. In October, we will celebrate another milestone together!”
The Belgian says her initial journey into umpiring started “pretty much on a dare”.
“To be honest, I never really dreamed of becoming an umpire; who does, right? As a player, I was often very upset by the umpires’ decisions. My dad suggested that, since I seemed so confident about calling games, I should give umpiring a try. I took up the challenge aged 16 and what started pretty much as a joke quickly turned into a real passion, just like playing the game!
“Ten years after taking the whistle for the first time, I found myself amongst the officials appointed for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. I was living the dream and I wanted to make the most of it. So I started a very specific preparation, involving physical training, sports psychology and eyes exercises to improve my peripheral vision.”
For Meister, she previously played for 20 years from the age of seven to 27 before a herniated disc in her lower back put an end to that side of the game.
“I wanted to stay involved in my beloved sport so I tried umpiring. Obviously, I was not so bad and I was allowed to umpire within two years in the women’s first division.
“And the journey continued! I was invited to a European Club Cup indoors in 2009 as my first international tournament. I liked the atmosphere, the quality of hockey and meeting people from all over the world.
“Umpiring internationally is a great honor to me. And when I realised after the World Cup 2014, I had a chance to go to the Olympics, I worked even harder to become better and better.”
To help her along the way, she has been umpiring in the top two men’s divisions for a number of years in her native Germany. Initially, it was only a rare occurrence but now she is one of the most frequently appointed umpires on the circuit and has taken charge of 24 top tier games and 52 in the second division.
“Last season, I had more men’s than women’s matches to umpire. In that sense, it’s already a regular thing. Only our Final Four are reserved for the gentlemen – so far!
Delforge took on her first men’s Honor Division game in 2012 and now primarily umpires in this competition due to still being a high-level player.
“Belgium was leading the way at the time as I was one of the first female umpires to be appointed to men’s matches. Not long after, I also started to umpire practice games of the Red Lions.
“Two weeks after Rio Olympics 2016, I even got the chance to umpire the rematch of the final, Argentina v Belgium, in front of 5,000 people. It was amazing.
“Because I am still playing in the first women’s league, I am not allowed to umpire women’s games. So I either whistle Under-19 boys or men’s games, depending on the agenda!”
Asked about the differences between the men’s and women’s games, both agree the fundamentals of the game remain but there are certain differences she feels which require different styles of game management.
“The speed of the game is the main difference so you have to change slightly your positioning during the game. For me personally, the management in a men’s game is a bit easier,” Meister says.
“The men play until the whistle interrupts them. Here, you can easily play an advantage and see if it develops well.”
Delforge adds: “Men run faster than women, which means we have to adapt our running lines to be in a good position to make the right call.
“Game management is also very different. Men and women process emotions differently and management of emotions is, of course, a big part of our job.
“This is why I will probably handle the exact same situation in a different way depending on whether I am umpiring men or women.”
And now they are looking forward to the challenge of umpiring in EHL ROUND1, a possible stepping stone to more new avenues.
“It’s amazing to be part of the EHL,” Meister adds. “It’s a great honour to me and recognition of our hard work. And I’m very proud and I’m really looking forward to umpire the men’s on an international level as well.”
Delforge concludes: “I hope it’s just the start and others female umpires will soon also get the opportunity to feel ‘equally amazing’!”
Technical Delegate Erdhard HIESSMAYR AUT EHF
Technical Officer Michiel BRUNING NED EHF
Judge Amadeo BOIX ESP NA
Judge Cristian FERRER ESP NA
Judge Andreas KNECHTEN GER EHF
Judge Janne Camilla NIELSEN DEN EHF
Media Officer Stephen FINDLATER IRL EHF
Umpires Manager Margaret HUNNABALL ENG EHF
Umpires Manager Hamish JAMSON ENG EHF
Umpire Rob ABBOTT IRL EHF
Umpire Laurine DELFORGE BEL EHF
Umpire Sean EDWARDS ENG EHF
Umpire Alex FEDENCZUK SCO EHF
Umpire Luca FERRARA ITA EHF
Umpire Tim MEISSNER GER EHF
Umpire Michelle MEISTER GER EHF
Umpire Andres ORTIZ ESP EHF
Umpire Michiel OTTEN NED EHF
Umpire Luka ZUPANCIC AUT EHF