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Female referees - are we good enough for the job?

Sexism is inherent in the term ‘women’s rugby’.

'Women's' rugby is not a different entity to ‘men’s rugby’. As our coach often says, ‘rugby is a sport that just so happens to be played by women’. Too often, after telling people I play rugby, I am met with sexist remarks:

“But it’s only touch rugby right?”

“But you’re so fragile”

“You could break so easily”

Whereas men are seen as ‘macho’ and ‘strong’ and ‘fearless’.

Image: Luke Snell

Image Luke Snell, Nouse

Sexism in sport is not unusual. But it is something that needs to be eradicated.

We can start by banishing these stereotypes from an early age. Introducing contact sports such as rugby, football and boxing to girls and boys when young, whilst encouraging non-contact sports for both genders such as netball and frisbee will help to eliminate gendered segregation. The categorisation of ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ sports is diabolical in a socially ‘progressive’ society.

Equality can only be achieved with equality of opportunity.

During the football world cup, the BBC came under scrutiny for using Vicki Sparks as a commentator for the sport. People complained they preferred listening to a male voice. Likewise, Katherine Merchant and Rochelle 'Rocky' Clark, both rugby world cup winners and now coaches for professional teams, are regularly mistaken for being team physios by officials. Worse still, they can be completely ignored by opposition coaches who often mistake male spectators as the team's coach. This ignorance is possibly due to a lack open-mindedness and respect.

Although the RFU claims that they ‘are committed to our diversity and inclusion strategy and plan which they are now delivering to ensure rugby is an inclusive sport, at every level’, only ¼ of the constituent body members are female and there are only 4 women on the RFU board. This is a step in the right direction although sadly it still mirrors the already sexist jobs market in our country.

However, last year Joy Neville became the first female to referee a European professional cup fixture. Although this should not be seen as an achievement, rather a normality - we can celebrate the progression of female leaders in this male-dominated environment. Unfortunately, there has not yet been a female referee in premier league football matches. Schools, media and clubs need to be lobbied by women themselves rather than be ‘given’ parity by male ‘Lords and Masters’ to achieve equality that is to the standard of women.

Empowerment, respect and opportunity

are the three ingredients for the progression of women in sports.

As long as people are able to do their job to a high standard, the gender of the employee should make no difference to the employer.

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