Female referee Sara Cox paves the way by taking charge of the men’s Premiership match

Rugby’s female lord hopes to pave a path: Sara Cox wants to encourage more women and girls to consider refereeing after becoming the first female umpire to preside over a men’s Premiership match

  • Cox became a pioneer by taking charge of Harlequins vs. Worcester
  • The 31-year-old was authoritative and insured on Saturday’s The Stoop
  • She didn’t want worrying about suitable titles to be a barrier


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When Sara Cox became a rugby pioneer on Saturday by taking charge of Harlequins vs. Worcester, she had to reassure the players that it would be no offense to call her ‘Sir’.

As the first female umpire to oversee a men’s Premiership match, Cox did not want concerns about suitable titles to be a barrier to open dialogue.

“For me, ‘Sir’ isn’t about gender. It’s about opening a line of communication that’s respectful,” the 31-year-old said. “The players decided to call me ‘Ref’, then one of them said ‘Sir’ and he corrected himself. I said, “Look, I’m really not precious, you’re more than welcome to call me sir, it’s no problem at all”.

Sara Cox became a rugby pioneer by taking charge of Harlequins vs Worcester

Sara Cox became a rugby pioneer by taking charge of Harlequins vs Worcester

“As long as it’s respectful, let’s get their point across so we can answer it.”

Cox was authoritative and confident at the Stoop, reaching the milestone in fine style. Both clubs gave her autographed shirts to commemorate a groundbreaking event in rugby, which may be followed by other sports.

The Quins and Worcester players made her feel welcome and largely accepted by not making a fuss. “Everyone came up to me, shook my hand and said, ‘Congratulations, it’s a fantastic achievement,'” Cox said. “But while you’re in the thick of it, they don’t care who you are.”

When asked if her presence had sparked criticism or hostility, she added: “Everyone has been so positive. The few comments I did see were more like, “Why does it matter she’s a woman?”. And yes, why does that matter? It was more in that direction than negativity.’

The 31-year-old was eager to open a respectful line of communication with the players

The 31-year-old was eager to open a respectful line of communication with the players

The 31-year-old was eager to open a respectful line of communication with the players

The former wing and fly-half hopes she grows into the world’s first full-time professional female referee and that her nomination to top competitions will encourage more women and girls to consider refereeing. “It’s about that exposure,” she said. “If you can’t see what I’m doing at the highest level, how can you expect anyone else to be involved?”

Cox was hesitant to set specific goals about refereeing a men’s cap, but she was adamant that such a scenario shouldn’t be unthinkable, provided it’s not a symbolic gesture.

“I was never told there was a barrier to entry,” she said. “If I don’t pass the tests or if I don’t fall in line with the rest, there is no reason why I should be placed there. I’d rather go through that process and know they’ve asked me to do the same as everyone else than be there for the wrong reasons.”

England released Ben Youngs and Ollie Lawrence this week from their short training camp in London. Scrum half Youngs sustained a minor thigh injury in Leicester’s win over Gloucester on Friday, but should be available for Saturday’s game at home against Saracens. Worcester center Lawrence has an unrelated illness.

Cox was authoritative and confident at The Stoop, and came out in style

Cox was authoritative and confident at The Stoop, and came out in style

Cox was authoritative and confident at The Stoop, and came out in style

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