I have watched a fair amount of high school soccer in my time. Boys’ games have a lot more speed and physicality by nature than the girls’ games. There should be no issue in recognizing that difference. It’s not sexist to recognize biological differences, but it is sexism to unnecessarily base policy on those differences.

In this case, boys’ and girls’ soccer games should not be and needn’t be refereed differently because of it. I can’t think of a soccer rule that needs to be interpreted differently or changed based on whether boys or girls are playing.

Generally, girls games are refereed much softer. Shoulder-to-shoulder contact that would not be called in boys’ games is frequently called as a foul in girls’ games . (For non-soccer people, shoulder-to-shoulder challenges are generally legal.)

Here’s what Patrick Duffy, the OSAA and soccer state rules interpreter wrote:

“In the bulletin, Duffy wrote that referees in Oregon have to treat boys and girls soccer games differently, stating that boys are better at playing through contact than girls are, and adding that referees need to be more strict about carding girls games.

“There has been a huge upswing in red cards in girls’ games this season and a lot of them are for violent conduct,” reads the bulletin. “Do not referee a girls’ game the same way you would a boys’ game. Girls are much less likely to want to play through some contact with opponents that boys typically want to shrug off. If you hear a player shouting at an opponent, hit the whistle immediately and loudly! Do not wait to see if advantage is going to develop.

“If you do not stop play immediately for this, there is a very high probability that a fight is about to start. In my experience, high school girls do not shout like that without provocation, either. At least one and probably two cards need to come out quickly, so the players can go to the bench and calm down.”

I have seen no evidence of increased violent conduct in the girls’ games I’ve watched this season. (Though, let’s face it, the season is young!) But that aside, that the rules expert would urge direct contravention of soccer’s rules is sort of mind-blowing. And he’s doing no favors to high school players with college or professional aspirations, given that both levels are much more physical than high school. 

We have enough problems getting good referees without stacking bad policy decisions on top of it.