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Female Referees Blazing a Trail


In honour of International Women’s Day, we look at the how the female rugby officials program is charging ahead

Some of our female refs who are blazing a trail in Australian Rugby

This year’s International Women’s Day calls on all of us to help forge a better working world to create a more gender inclusive world. Our female officials program is charging ahead. National Manager of Female Referees, Lauren Kelly, tells us about new opportunities in Rugby and introduces three of her team...

Lauren Kelly- National Manager of Female Match Officials

After playing rugby for over 12 years there was a call from my local referees association for females to take up the whistle to help develop the game. I thought this would be a good challenge as I knew I wouldn't be able to play much longer but wanted to remain involved. Over the next 3 years I enjoyed refereeing while I still played and even took up a coaching role as well.

I was approached by a senior referee who said there was a big push to involve female officials at representative levels and he thought that I knew the game well enough to give it a go but would have to work on my fitness. 
I managed to drop over 60kg and in doing so picked up several appointments through the ARU. 

I have now taken on the role as National Manager of Female Match Officials. This is a great initiative to help promote and strengthen the female match officials we have in Australia especially in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games in 2018.

I am really excited about the new role I have with the ARU and hope I can help the growth of female referee numbers nationally.

With women's rugby participation at an all-time high in Australia thanks largely to the success of the Aussie 7s team, it is really important that we highlight the opportunities available for female referees not just players... We have opportunities for girls to travel the world and officiate at all sorts of tournaments such as Dubai and Las Vegas 7s, the Six Nations in Europe and not to mention both the 7s and 15s World Cups. Amy Perrett has been involved in all of these tournaments and is one of the leading referees in the world! Rachel Horton as referred her first International match and most recently officiated at the Women's Six Nations. There are some excellent pathways available for females to referee, hopefully more will take up the whistle when they have finished playing but more importantly start now while they are still having a run around the park!

Tyler Miller  - WA

I started refereeing at 12 when there was no longer a league for girls to play in. My brother and dad were at rugby every Saturday still anyway, and because I was bought up with it, there really was never an alternative option that interested me. Since taking up the whistle, I haven’t looked back. 

Highlights - Watching the game grow and develop over the 10 years that I have been involved has been unbelievable. Especially off the growth from the girls’ huge success at the Olympics, seeing more girls getting involved playing, we were able to get competitions start over here in WA to fill the gap that I faced when I reached 12. From these additional competitions, girls have been wanting to learn to improve their skills and regularly come and ask questions to try and better themselves. Seeing girls involved in any facet of the game, playing, refereeing, coaching or managing is always rewarding. All the females and girls here are so supportive regardless of your role and I love that about rugby – it’s a game for everyone. 

It’s been a lot of hard work and perseverance when sometimes I didn’t know if there was a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. I was quite sheltered over here until a few years ago when I travelled interstate for my first competition, where I found out just how big the whole picture is and how many people are involved. Even though we might be the only referee in the centre of the field with the whistle, we’re all a team, on and off the field, and we all support each other. 

Refereeing is also a great way for people to stay involved in a game if they are no longer able to/interested in playing, and it is also a viable career path if you are dedicated and willing enough to put in the work. 

Lara West - QLD

I started refereeing kids rugby when I was 14 through the refereeing program at Sunnybank Rugby. Since then, I have progressed through all the junior divisions and into senior rugby. I started refereeing at 7s tournaments interstate when I was 18, and as 7s has grown, there have been countless opportunities to travel around Australia for different competitions. 

Refereeing the women's exhibition game at the Brisbane 10s at Suncorp was a career highlight. It was a quality game in front of the biggest crowd I have experienced with a great atmosphere. Also, being Assistant Referee and in-goal at the Sydney 7s and participating in the professional environment of a World Series tournament. 
What brought you to this stage and why you have chosen this role in sport? – I wasn't interested in playing as I don't enjoy contact sport, but I love rugby so it seemed like a natural transition to make so that I am able to be a part of the game that I love. 

All the referee coaches who have watched me over the years, particularly as a junior have encouraged me to achieve my goals; and fellow referees have encouraged me or offered advice. More recently though, now that there is more structure in developing referees, those from the ARU and QRRA such as Scott Young and Dick Byers respectively, have been extremely supportive.

Rachel Horton - QLD

I have been teaching at an all-boys school for 5 years. I played rugby for around 9 years and have always been involved with a lot of sport. I have travelled a lot, being English originally, having worked and lived in Canada and Kenya and spent 6 months in Iraq with the British Army.  I have now been in Australia for nearly 9 years and am very settled here. 

There are 2 single best moments for me in my refereeing career. The first was being appointed to and refereeing my first premier rugby game in Brisbane. It was unexpected and something I thought I would have to push a lot harder to get as the first woman in Queensland to do so, so I was grateful for the opportunity and amazed by the amount of support and good wishes I received from everyone. I also felt that although there was publicity around my gender, I was being accepted as a referee rather than a female referee which is important to me. I want to be seen that way and appointed on merit.

The second was also unexpected, being appointed to the Women's 6 Nations this year. The whole experience starting with a two-day camp and then two games, one in England (Assistant Referee) and one in Italy (as Referee), was fantastic. I loved being in such a professional environment and am so grateful to be part of the World Rugby team this year.

I think the biggest thing here is for women and girls to just see it as an opportunity that is open to them if they want to pursue it and that comes down to us, as existing referees, being visible, approachable and encouraging of anyone who we come into contact with. Gender equality is important but not every girl wants to referee in the same way that not every boy wants to play rugby so in my mind it is just a question of allowing those opportunities for everyone and supporting those who are interested. 

I love when I am approached by girls (some very young!) to talk about refereeing but I also love talking to the boys at school and encouraging them to get involved. I do run a school refereeing program at Churchie which is going really well. I am so proud of the boys involved as it takes real courage to referee at any age, let alone when you are still at school. This year I am going to invite some of our associated girl’s schools to send interested students along to the Foundation course to get them started too so I will see how that goes.