Refs need chances, re­gard­less of gen­der

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP -

THERE was a bit of a so­cial media buzz this week as Premier League ref­eree Michael Oliver ended up run­ning the line in Thurs­day’s Con­ti­nen­tal Cup game be­tween Ar­se­nal Ladies and Read­ing FC Women.

Oliver, right, just hap­pened to be in the stands watch­ing the match, ref­er­eed by his wife Lucy, and when the call came over the PA for some­one to step up af­ter an in­jury, on came Oliver!

Be­ing an avid fol­lower of Non-League football this par­tic­u­lar an­nounce­ment over the tan­noy is not un­usual. I’ve of­ten ex­pe­ri­enced a fan wear­ing mis­matched socks and an old ho­ley jumper step­ping up.

But a bona-fide Premier League of­fi­cial an­swer­ing the call from the stands is one of those “blimey” mo­ments, es­pe­cially as he’d been in his civvies just mo­ments be­fore.

So, so­cial media was abuzz for a bit, but prob­a­bly the most in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion to come out of Michael Oliver don­ning the black was not whether he trav­els with a spare kit to ev­ery match, but whether or not men should be al­lowed to of­fi­ci­ate in Women’s Football? A con­ver­sa­tion par­tic­u­larly preva­lent at this sum­mer’s World Cup.

As so of­ten hap­pens at these tour­na­ments, male and fe­male, the stan­dard of ref­er­ee­ing is sharply brought into fo­cus. The views range from whether, as one blog­ger put it,“the pol­icy of women-only of­fi­cials has clearly low­ered the qual­ity of the prod­uct,” to “the women’s game is grow­ing, of­fi­cials need to be given the op­por­tu­nity to grow with it”.

Im­prove

Of course FIFA’s pol­icy at any World Cup, re­gard­less of gen­der, is that ref­er­ees from all over the world should and do of­fi­ci­ate. And with that in mind, there will al­ways be vary­ing lev­els of ex­pe­ri­ence and, shall we say, pro­fi­ciency.

The ar­gu­ment be­ing, how can we im­prove ref­er­ee­ing if you don’t give peo­ple a shot? Or, of course, in the case of the Women’s World Cup, there’s al­ways the ar­gu­ment that who’s to say the male of­fi­cials would be any bet­ter?

I was re­minded of this only last week­end when lis­ten­ing in to a com­men­tary on Non­League football only to hear a shout from the stands along the lines of “my mis­sus could do bet­ter than that”. Maybe she could, but maybe he could too.

It would be great to get to a stage where gen­der is not an is­sue, equally to have qual­ity of­fi­cials across all na­tions, but for that to hap­pen we have to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties at all lev­els of the game, from grass-roots up for men and women.

So how do we make of­fi­ci­at­ing a, dare I say it, sexy pro­fes­sion? One where kids stick their hands up at school and say,“When I grow up I want to be a ref­eree?”

Money may be the an­swer, but we also need to sort out the lev­els of abuse and make it a role we all want to do, re­gard­less of gen­der.

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