At Twickenham Stadium two weeks ago, 50 inspiring female referees marked the launch of a new campaign with the aim of attracting 500 more to the sport by the end of 2024.
Brought together by The Rugby Football Union (RFU) and ACME Whistles ahead of the clash between England Men 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 strong 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 – whilst also sending out a call for others to join in the movement – was incredible.”
Ahead of the game, each of the referees at the stadium were presented with a one-of-a-kind ACME whistle, to recognize their contribution to the sport.
Pryor added, “We all got together pitch side before the game and blew our commemorative ACME whistle 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.”
Fiona Brunt, a referee from Gloucestershire, said, “What an incredible day. We’re all here to inspire more women to take up the whistle. If we can get even one more person to pick up a whistle and give it a go – that’d be fantastic!
“My dad was a referee, that’s how I first came to give it a go. I’ve absolutely loved it from there and haven’t put the whistle down since.”
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 added, “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 honor 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.”
To find out more about the campaign, visit www.ruck.co.uk/inspire/ or https://keepyourbootson.co.uk/