Refereeing in a man's game: A female perspective

The question is, are women officials in sport treated or thought of as equal to their male coll

The furore caused by Andy Gray and Richard Keys ill-advised comments has principally concentrated on the reported culture of sexism, bullying and boorish behaviour at Sky Sports and the two men’s future.

What hasn’t been so widely debated is the catalyst to the saga, namely, the pair’s comments about female assistant referee Sian Massey and whether she, as a woman, was fit to run the line at a Premier League football match.  

The question is, are women officials in sport treated or thought of as equal to their male colleagues or not? The events of the past week suggest that they are not, but as an on-ice official in the macho world on the men’s ice-hockey English Premier League I feel relatively well-qualified to comment.  
During my 16 year career as a referee in the men’s ice hockey English Premier League I have watched as people’s perceptions have developed and women have begun to be more accepted both as players and officials.  
It is with mixed feelings that I remember my first game in the Super-league as a linesman.  At the beginning of the game the two team captains questioned the referee about why a girl was being allowed to line their game.  I was lucky to be working that night with a very experienced referee who told the captains to grow up and to treat me like any other official regardless of my gender.  I felt I had a good game, made the right decisions and gained the respect of the players. However I remember thinking how shocking it was that at the start of the game the players already had an adverse view on whether I should be allowed to officiate.  I can only imagine the pressure Sian Massey must be feeling given the comments about her were delivered in the public domain.
I have spent years walking onto ice rinks and watching people stop their conversations to shake their head in disgust or disbelief that a female is refereeing their game.  Will this ever change?  Is there any hope for equality in sport officiating?  In 2011 are we still in a world where men are shocked to have a female officiate their games?  Have we moved forward?  As an optimist, I would say we have come a long way on all of these questions, but I still think that there is much progress to be made. 
Signs of this progress came last Sunday night at a men’s English Premier League ice hockey match at Bracknell where the three-member officiating team included two women. It was jokingly suggested before the game that no men were available, but once on the ice no-one questioned the majority female presence. 
We have a number of women ice hockey officials across the country and the change in perception of their right to officiate has taken time but has altered. It is clear that this is not the case, at least in every quarter, but if everyone involved in sport took a leaf out of ice-hockey’s book then one day women officials will be treated as equal to the male colleagues.
Joy Tottman
International ice-hockey referee and Sport and Recreation Alliance’s Compliance Officer
The views expressed in this article are the individual’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Sport and Recreation Alliance