When Sara Cox became a rugby trailblazer on Saturday by taking charge of Harlequins versus Worcester, she had to reassure the players that calling her ‘Sir’ would not cause offence.
As the first female referee to oversee a men’s Premiership match, Cox didn’t want any concern about suitable titles to act as a barrier to open dialogue.
‘For me, “Sir” is not about gender. It’s about opening a line of communication that’s respectful,’ said the 31-year-old. ‘The players decided they were going 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 trailblazer by taking charge of Harlequins versus Worcester
‘As long as it’s respectful, let’s get their point across so we can answer it.’
Cox was authoritative and assured at the Stoop, rising to the landmark occasion in fine style. Both clubs gave her signed shirts to commemorate a ground-breaking event in rugby which other sports may follow.
The Quins and Worcester players made her feel welcome and accepted largely by not making a fuss. ‘Every one of them came up, shook my hand and said “congratulations, it’s a fantastic achievement”,’ said Cox. ‘But while you’re in the heat of that battle, they don’t care who you are.’
Asked if her presence had attracted any criticism or hostility, she added: ‘Everybody has been so positive. The couple of comments I did see were more about, “Why does it matter that she’s female?”. And yeah, why does that matter? It was more along those lines than negativity.’
The 31-year-old was keen to open a respectful line of communication with the players
The former wing and fly-half hopes her rise to become the world’s first full-time professional female referee and her appointment for top-class fixtures will encourage more women and girls to consider officiating. ‘It’s about that exposure,’ she said. ‘If you can’t see what I am doing at the top level, how can you expect anybody else to be involved?’
Cox was reluctant to set specific targets about refereeing a men’s international match, but she was adamant such a scenario should not be unthinkable, provided it is not a token gesture.
‘I have never been told there is a barrier to entry,’ she said. ‘If I don’t pass the tests or I don’t fall in line with everybody else, there is no reason why I should be put there. I would rather go through that process and know they’ve asked me to do the same as everybody else, than be there for the wrong reasons.’
England have released Ben Youngs and Ollie Lawrence from their short training camp in London this week. Scrum-half Youngs suffered a minor thigh injury in Leicester’s win at Gloucester on Friday but should be available for Saturday’s clash at home to Saracens. Worcester centre Lawrence has a non-Covid-related illness.
Cox was authoritative and assured at The Stoop, rising to the occasion in fine style