Mitchell: Let’s have more fe­male um­pires!

Ali­son Mitchell re­veals that fe­male of­fi­cials have taken charge of in­ter­na­tional men’s games and want to progress

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Rarely has this col­umn sought out a par­tic­u­lar scorecard from ICC World Cricket League Divi­sion 5. How­ever, there are two points of in­ter­est to note from a match be­tween Oman and Nige­ria, played at the St Cle­ment ground in Jer­sey in 2016.

The most ob­vi­ous fact to stand out from the scorecard is that not one Nige­rian bats­man reached dou­ble fig­ures. Bat­ting sec­ond in the 50-over con­test, they were rolled over for 39 in­side 23.5 overs. The to­tal, how­ever, wasn’t even the low­est in the his­tory of the WCL.

The sec­ond point of in­ter­est is less ob­vi­ous, but rather more sig­nif­i­cant. Glance down to where it says ‘Um­pires’, and along­side the name ‘AJT Dow­dalls (Scot­land)’ it lists ‘S Red­fern (Eng­land)’. Be­low, it records the third um­pire as ‘JM Wil­liams (West Indies)’. The ‘S’ in Red­fern stands for Sue while the ‘J’ in Wil­liams is Jac­que­line.

Two fe­males were of­fi­ci­at­ing a men’s ICC tour­na­ment match – some­thing which had never hap­pened be­fore. Whilst New Zealan­der Kathy Cross, a mem­ber of the ICC’s As­so­ci­ates and Af­fil­i­ates Panel of Um­pires since 2014, had be­gun paving the way in in­ter­na­tional men’s cricket by stand­ing in WCL Di­vi­sions Five and Three in Malaysia that year, this was the first time two fe­males had of­fi­ci­ated at this level to­gether.

Red­fern and Wil­liams went on to stand in the ICC Women’s World Cup Qual­i­fy­ing tour­na­ment ear­lier this year in Sri Lanka, along­side Cross and Aus­tralian Claire Polosak, a pair who had fea­tured to­gether at the ICC Women’s World T20 in In­dia in 2016. The four women of­fi­ci­ated along­side five male col­leagues, and to­gether, they are the most se­nior fe­male um­pires in the game. Cross is the most ex­pe­ri­enced, hav­ing switched from play­ing to um­pir­ing in 1998, and be­ing heav­ily in­volved in New Zealand’s do­mes­tic men’s scene. She has been um­pir­ing women’s in­ter­na­tion­als since 2000.

Polosak and Wil­liams had their first ex­pe­ri­ence of women’s in­ter­na­tion­als in 2015, hav­ing started to gain ex­pe­ri­ence of of­fi­ci­at­ing men’s pro­fes­sional do­mes­tic cricket in their re­spec­tive coun­tries, too.

Red­fern es­ti­mates she spends be­tween 50 and 60 days per year of­fi­ci­at­ing in Eng­land at var­i­ous lev­els un­der the aus­pices of the ECB. A for­mer Eng­land bowler, she com­bines her um­pir­ing ca­reer (or ‘hobby’ as she calls it) with a role at the ECB as Clubs and Fa­cil­i­ties Man­ager for the East Mid­lands.

She was pre­vi­ously the ECB’s In­clu­sion and Di­ver­sity Man­ager, and be­fore that the Na­tional Devel­op­ment Lead for Women’s Cricket. Now she could be of­fi­ci­at­ing in men’s, women’s or even in­door cricket in the win­ter.

“Ob­vi­ously I work full time as well,” she says. “It’s a hobby, it’s a pas­sion, and I spend a fair bit of time out there try­ing to im­prove my­self as an um­pire and stand­ing in dif­fer­ent lev­els of the game to get dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences.”

While Red­fern played six Tests and 15 ODIs for Eng­land be­tween 1995-1999, her route into um­pir­ing and her ex­pe­ri­ence of the game is very dif­fer­ent to Polosak’s, who is a teacher by pro­fes­sion and never played any cricket, de­spite lov­ing it. Polosak’s path­way is im­por­tant to show other po­ten­tial um­pires that you don’t need to have played the game in or­der to be able to un­der­stand, ap­pre­ci­ate and ap­ply the Laws as an of­fi­cial.

“All four of us have had very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences as to how we got into cricket and of­fi­ci­at­ing,” Red­fern ex­plains. “I’ve been for­tu­nate to play in­ter­na­tional cricket but there are peo­ple who get into of­fi­ci­at­ing sim­ply through an in­ter­est in the game and want­ing to do some­thing within it. When I stopped play­ing I wanted to stay in­volved and wanted to give um­pir­ing a go but there are a va­ri­ety of back­grounds that lead to of­fi­ci­at­ing.”

“Any woman who wants to of­fi­ci­ate can con­tact their lo­cal board,” says Red­fern. “You can feel con­fi­dent that if you go on the ba­sic course for of­fi­cials it will teach you all about the game. So if you haven’t got a huge amount of play­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, it will give you an op­por­tu­nity to get into it.”

Red­fern es­ti­mates that 95 per cent of her um­pir­ing is done in men’s cricket, which is more due to the num­ber of matches avail­able than any­thing else.

“I feel pas­sion­ate about the women’s game and the par­tic­i­pa­tion and growth that is be­ing ex­pe­ri­enced in women’s cricket, but there are just more matches in men’s cricket at the mo­ment with the vol­ume of teams. So there is more op­por­tu­nity. For me though it’s about do­ing a mix­ture. I love do­ing the women’s game for dif­fer­ent rea­sons to the men’s, and it all gives me dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences.”

It is in­escapable that Red­fern would have at­tracted more cu­rios­ity on her um­pir­ing de­but than she would have done if she was a man. How­ever the 39year-old prefers to fo­cus on the fact that it takes any new um­pire time to earn the re­spect of the play­ers, what­ever your gen­der.

“I was very for­tu­nate,” she says. “I got lots of sup­port from my lo­cal county as­so­ci­a­tion. But like any new um­pire it’s a new chal­lenge. Play­ers don’t know you, but as you of­fi­ci­ate with them more, as I have over the last five years, they start to recog­nise who you are and they base your per­for­mances on what you do on the field.

“I just want to be seen as an um­pire and I want to be the best um­pire I can be. It’s not about me be­ing a fe­male, it’s about me be­ing a good um­pire.”

The ECB say they have over 150 qual­i­fied fe­male um­pires, and the As­so­ci­a­tion of Cricket Of­fi­cials will be us­ing the vis­i­bil­ity of the Women’s World Cup in Eng­land this sum­mer as an op­por­tu­nity to try to sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease their mem­ber­ship.

Last year Red­fern was joined by two other women in of­fi­ci­at­ing men’s County 2nd XI cricket for the ECB; 53-year-old Ali­son Smith, from Buck­ing­hamshire, and 52-year-old Inge­borg Bev­ers, of Worces­ter­shire (orig­i­nally from the Nether­lands). Red­fern knows that more women need to be seen do­ing tasks that are tra­di­tion­ally male in or­der for per­cep­tions to change and for other women to re­alise there are op­por­tu­ni­ties in that re­gard.

“I think it’s sim­i­lar to what we’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing across the world in terms of the num­ber of fe­male play­ers. It will be nat­u­ral that the more vis­i­ble it is and the more women are in­ter­ested in and in­volved in cricket, the more likely it will be to in­crease coaches and um­pires alike.”

Com­pared to the num­ber of vol­un­teer um­pires op­er­at­ing at all lev­els of the sport, there are only a small num­ber of full-time pro­fes­sional um­pir­ing jobs in world cricket.

How­ever the ECB and ICC path­ways are in place for both men and women equally, so if Red­fern or any other fe­male wanted to choose the life of an elite um­pire and set out to rise up the rank­ings, is it con­ceiv­able that one day a woman could stand in a men’s Test match?

“There is no reason why a woman can’t stand in a men’s Test match in the fu­ture,” she states em­phat­i­cally. “It should be about an um­pires’ per­for­mance, not their gen­der. It’s im­por­tant that women are given the same op­por­tu­ni­ties as men, and if they’re good enough, why not.”

In­ci­den­tally, Oman fin­ished run­ners up in WCL Divi­sion 5 after beat­ing Nige­ria so con­vinc­ingly last year. They were then pro­moted from Divi­sion 4 and will now com­pete in the Divi­sion 3 tour­na­ment in Uganda next month. Red­fern’s ca­reer and that of her col­leagues, is sim­i­larly on the up.

There is no reason why a woman can’t stand in a Test match in the fu­ture. It should be about per­for­mance not gen­der

Player first: Sue Red­fern played for Eng­land be­fore um­pir­ing

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