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Fall Gräfe: Rückendeckung aus dem Amateurbereich: Alte Schiedsrichter im Abseits

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Status: 01/24/2023 08:30 a.m

The verdict in the case of ex-referee Manuel Gräfe, who is suing the DFB for age discrimination, is expected on Wednesday. It could be groundbreaking for the future handling of referees in German professional football.

Saturday morning in the sports hall of TSV Sielmingen. Since the referee tournament was launched 21 years ago, 60-year-old Hardy Wolf has traditionally whistled the first game. The chairman of the Esslingen referee group is responsible for 140 referees and takes care of recruiting young people. Hardy Wolf is popular in the region and his opinion is greatly appreciated.

Also because when dealing with the mostly young amateur footballers, he always has a good hand and a casual saying on his lips – even when the game threatens to slip away. His many years of experience help him: “You notice in advance what is going to happen and what can happen. Then you can change something and whistle more pettily. Older referees can filter that out a little better.” Younger referees, on the other hand, are often not as well accepted, says Wolf.

The dispute over the existence of an age limit

Nevertheless, referees who, like Hardy Wolf, are older than 47 have not been used in the Bundesliga for more than two decades. In contrast, Manuel Gräfe sued last year. He has officiated 289 Bundesliga games since 2004 and is one of the best German referees. At the DFB, however, Gräfe often offended, publicly criticized the association and was sidelined last season – at the age of 47. Now he is demanding 190,000 euros in damages and a statement that he was no longer nominated solely because of his age. The DFB counters that such an age limit does not exist at all. And indeed: You will look in vain for such a guideline in the statutes of the DFB.

Too old for professional football?

Should referees no longer be allowed to whistle in the upper house of German football after a certain age? “If someone passes the performance test and meets all the requirements, they should be allowed to whistle,” says Hardy Wolf. And in fact, the German referee chief Lutz Michael Fröhlich emphasized to the “Sport Bild” last year that the 47 years are “rather a guide value. If someone brings everything with them in the overall package and meets the requirements, […] then you should also take that into account.” Gräfe said in court that there was “great agreement among the referees that there is this age limit”. Otherwise, the now 49-year-old is sure, “I would still be on the pitch.”

Wolf jumps to the side of his referee colleague. Young referees are often fitter and faster, especially in big games, internationally, they usually rely on more experienced referees: “You know, they can deal with it. They have a completely different relationship and are also known to the players.”

Is there a “keep it up”?

A decision by the district court in Frankfurt am Main is expected to be made on Wednesday. Irrespective of the verdict, the DFB must then deal with the question of whether old referees should continue to give the ball to young referees.

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