Sergeant Rachael Watson: The first female UKAF Rugby League referee
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Female Rugby League Official Follows An Illustrious Path

The UK Armed Forces now has its first female rugby league official: Royal Air Force Sergeant Rachel Watson is the latest in a line of female...

Sergeant Rachael Watson: The first female UKAF Rugby League referee

Forces News caught up with Royal Air Force, Air Traffic Control Sergeant, Rachel Watson to discuss her transition from rugby league player to official.

Rachel spoke to Forces Network reporter, Cath Brazier, on how she became the first female to officiate in a UK Armed Forces men’s rugby league game.

The official is following in the footsteps of a number of other females who have levelled the field when it comes to challenging old stereotypes.

Sara Cox – Rugby Union

Where better to start than with another English rugby referee, this time in the code of Rugby Union.

Sara became the first centrally contracted Rugby Football Union (RFU) referee in 2015, before once again making history by officiating at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

She became the first woman to referee a men’s RFU game in 2017 when she took charge of the League One fixture between Loughborough and Plymouth.

Sara has since gone on to officiate at Greene King IPA Championship level.

Belinda Sleeman – Rugby League

To rugby league then, the same code where Sergeant Rachel Watson is cutting her teeth as an official.

Belinda Sleeman was the first female official to be rostered to a Rugby League World Cup finals stage back in 2017.

A former sports journalist, Belinda was selected to be a part of the 26 strong officiating team when the finals took place in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea between October 27 and December 2 2017.

She isn’t the only female official down under. Kasey Badger also officiates in Australia’s National Rugby League.

Sarah Thomas – Gridiron / American Football

Sarah started officiating games for local high school teams but wanted to reach the very top.

She faced a number of challenges, recounting her rise she once remarked:

“They said they would never hire a woman for a junior college game.”

Fortunately, the now National Football League (NFL) referee ignored the comments.

She became the first female official for the NFL when she debuted in a fixture between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans.

Becoming the first female ‘Head Linesman’ in 2017, her appointment led to a change in the name of the position.

It is now called the Down Judge as the NFL sought to eliminate the ‘gender-based classification of the position’.

Amy Fearn – Football

Amy has a number of English football firsts.

Since her refereeing journey began at the age of 13 she has gone on to climb the ranks of the game.

In 2010 she became the first woman to take full control of a Football League match as the match referee when the originally nominated official pulled out with an injury.

Amy took charge of the Midland’s derby between Coventry and Nottingham Forest.

The FA Cup was the next landmark to fall. In 2013 she was named as the first female referee to officiate in the main rounds of the competition – a First Round match between Corby and Dover.

Lauren Holtkamp – Basketball

Lauren may not be the first female basketball referee in National Basketball Association (NBA) history, but she is certainly one of the best-regarded officials currently in the game.

Amassing a total of 214 games over six seasons, she is in action regularly when the season is in competition.

The NBA will return in October 2018 with Lauren as the solitary female official - something the association is keen to rectify.

The very first female NBA referee was Violet Palmer who went on to officiate in 18 full seasons from 1997 to 2016.

Bibiana Steinhaus – Football

Last on our list - but by no means least - is German football referee Bibiana Steinhaus.

Bibiana is another official with a list of firsts since she began refereeing in 1999. After taking charge of her first men’s game in 2001 - a German fourth division fixture - she has moved from the amateur game into the professional arena.

In 2007 she was the first female to be placed on the roster of 2. Bundesliga referees - Germany’s second highest division.

She quickly became a highly respected official but it took another decade for her to reach the pinnacle of German football – the Bundesliga.

Officiating her first Bundesliga match – a one-one draw between Hertha BSC and Werder Bremen – she became the first female referee to ever take charge of a German top-flight game in September 2017.

She went on to officiate a total of eight games across the season, as well as being appointed throughout as both an assistant referee and fourth official.