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Prem statement: Sara Cox appointment is 'not about gender'

By Kim Ekin

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Premiership Rugby have said that the appointment of Sara Cox – who will become the first woman to referee a Premiership game this weekend – is not about gender.

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Cox, who will become the 91st different referee to officiate a top-flight game, was supposed to make her Gallagher Premiership Rugby refereeing debut last season in a clash between Worcester Warriors and Gloucester Rugby, only for a COVID-19 cancellation to strike.

Cox will now take charge of Harlequins versus Worcester at the Stoop as she follows in the footsteps of Ireland’s Joy Neville, who became the first woman to referee a top-flight men’s match in 2016.

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However, the Premiership are at pains to point that the decision is one borne out of merit and has nothing to do with Cox’s gender.

“There is clearly a lot of interest in Sara’s appointment for this weekend but we need to be clear that this is certainly not an appointment about gender,” said Phil Winstanley, Rugby Director at Premiership Rugby. “Sara is an excellent referee, she’s been developing over many years and has progressed through the Premiership Rugby Shield and the Premiership Rugby Cup. She’s part of a strong cohort of young, developing referees, who are all aspiring to officiate in the Premiership. This appointment is very much about her skill and ability as a referee and she’s there on merit.”

“Of course, we can’t ignore the interest that this appointment brings because she’s a woman and the first person to achieve in any sporting or non-sporting situation is often noteworthy.

“Sara’s appointment gives an opportunity for boys and girls to see that, if you work hard, you can achieve at the top level of sport. It is sending a very strong message to girls in particular and we should welcome that but we also want to get to a stage where the gender of the referee is no longer newsworthy because it’s the norm.

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“What’s next for Sara depends on how well she does. It’s her first game and expectations for any referee coming into the Premiership are high. We believe that we’ve got a high-performing group of officials, and for her to become that on a permanent basis, she’ll need to perform and Sara knows that as well as anyone else.”

RFU Head of Professional Game Match Officials Tony Spreadbury said: “Sara is one of a strong team of match officials working in the Premiership. She’s worked very hard since becoming a full-time referee in 2016 to continually learn and improve and I was delighted to appoint her as referee for the Quins Worcester game this weekend. I know she will take it in her stride. Sara is and will continue to be a great inspiration to others and we hope to see many more aspiring referees follow in her footsteps.”

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Prem statement: Sara Cox appointment is 'not about gender'

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