At Twickenham Stadium last weekend, Polly from Alton joined 49 other inspiring female referees to mark the launch of a new campaign with the aim of attracting more female officials to rugby.
Brought together by The Rugby Football Union (RFU) and ACME Whistles ahead of the clash between the men’s teams of England and Japan, the 50 referees surrounded the national flags on the pitch, alongside the players and dignitaries during the national anthems, in front of the 81,000 crowd.
The project, led by RFU match official developer and referee Leonie Pryor, is part of a drive to bring more female match officials into the game – ultimately with the goal of inspiring 500 new female rugby referees by the end of 2024 as part of the RFU’s Every Rose strategy.
“Seeing these amazing women taking to the pitch ahead of the game this weekend in front of a packed Twickenham gave me goosebumps,” said Pryor.
“Each of the referees who joined us is such a credit to the sport, and seeing them all come together and share this amazing experience – while also sending out a call for others to join in the movement – was incredible.”
Before the game each of the referees at the stadium was presented with a limited edition ACME whistle to recognise their contribution to the sport.
Pryor added: “We all got together pitchside before the game and blew our commemorative ACME whistles to mark the start of this incredible campaign. The sound of 50 whistles reverberating around the ground was enough to stop everyone in their tracks.”
Polly talked about what motivated her to pick up a whistle. She said: “Being part of the game I love! I am motivated to improve and be the best official I can be. I love going to different grounds and refereeing different levels.
“And being able to switch off from other things going on in my life to run around on a pitch where I need 100 per cent focus. I’m forced to be present when I referee, and it’s also good to keep general health and fitness up.”
Across England, the number of registered female referees who regularly officiate games is currently lower than the number of registered male referees, something that Leonie and her team are keen to change.
Pryor said: “Having already talked to many of the inspiring women referees from around the UK, it’s the stories of confidence, teamwork, community and belonging that make this such a powerful project.
“You never know – we might even inspire the next Sara Cox or Hollie Davidson to join refereeing.”
ACME Whistles, whose founder invented the modern-day sports whistle, has supported the campaign through its network which has helped the campaign reach the rugby community across the country.
Ben McFarlane, marketing director at ACME Whistles, added: “The referee is central to any rugby game – whether that’s at a community or international level.
“It’s been an honour to celebrate the amazing stories of the 50 referees who joined us at the weekend, and only hope it helps inspire the next wave of female referees into the sport.”