Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
Article Courtesy of IRB.com
Dana Teagarden created a little piece of refereeing history in Amsterdam on Friday evening when she became the first female official appointed by the International Rugby Board to referee a men’s senior international match.
The American took charge of the final match of Hong Kong’s end of year tour of Europe against the Netherlands at the National Rugby Centre, which kicked off at the rearranged time of 20:00 local time as a result of the freezing weather in Amsterdam.
However, while Teagarden acknowledges the significance of her appointment for others, for her it is simply just another Test match, one she has earned selection for on merit and one she intends to simply go out in and referee the best she possibly can.
“Any time you are part of an international is I think a tremendous honour,” Teagarden, who has been a referee now for 16 years and was on the match official panel for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010, told Total Rugby Radio.
“From a personal perspective I am pleased to have been selected on merit to referee this match and more so because I am a referee than because I am a woman. To me I am a referee who happens to be a woman. To other people I know it is a very big step and I acknowledge the significance of that. I am pleased to have the honour.”
Gender is irrelevant
“I have refereed for 16 out of the last 21 years and in that time 95 percent of the rugby at least that I referee is men’s rugby, so I think what is important is that on any given weekend two teams get a referee, and hopefully a referee that is competent and capable and interested at being the best referee for the match in hand.
“Factors like gender are really irrelevant to the reality.
“I think it is important that the people making those appointments look at people based on their individual merit and what they bring to the table and what potential they have for improving.
“That is why this appointment is significant because it is obviously working through some of the presumptions that some people might have about somebody’s capability based on gender, which to me is pretty low on the list or non-existent on the list of criteria.”
This is a sentiment echoed by Bernd Gabbei, the IRB Referee Development Consultant who has been working closely with IRB Referee Manager Paddy O’Brien on developing and implementing programmes specifically aimed at raising Women’s officiating standards.
“First of all, referee appointments are performance based and in the context of a particular match,” explained Gabbei. “Dana was monitored by the IRB since her WRWC debut in 2006 and has placed herself in the top category of female match officials with her third place match between Australia and France at the WRWC 2010 in England.
“She has refereed a number of top-class men’s matches before, including matches in the IRB Sevens World Series. Dana has the technical skills plus the mental and physical presence to do well in the next step, to referee a men’s Tier 3 international.
“The IRB Referee Strategic Plan is the driver to reward top performances with selection to the next level of matches as well as to provide adopted processes and structures for female match officials.
“Rugby is a game to be played by men and women and it should be refereed, coached and administered by men and women.”
Burden of extra weight
Refereeing a men’s match is nothing new for the 30-year-old from Kansas, the majority of matches she has taken charge of over the years are men’s and she even jokes there was less pressure refereeing men’s matches, particularly early on when she also played rugby.
“I chuckle a bit when I’m asked that question [about feeling more pressure when refereeing men]. The first 10 years that I refereed I also played, so most weekends I would play in a women’s match and referee a men’s match or two.
“There was always more pressure refereeing women than men because when I was playing they were my peers or people that I knew, so men I actually felt a lot less pressure with and that has obviously passed with the women as I am no longer a playing peer with most of the women I am refereeing.
“For me personally, it’s no more pressure. Obviously there are some external pressures out there with people’s expectations but a very good friend of mine refereeing the tour said to me at one point don’t carry a flag about where you are from or that you’re a woman because it’s just extra weight.
“For me it is rugby and I go out there and I do my best to be the best referee for the game in hand.”
Amsterdam is her final appointment in 15-month spell that has seen her referee 11 Test matches in six different countries, three of them at Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010 in England, a tournament which helped raise the bar of the Women’s Game to new levels and has resulted in more attention for players and officials alike.
“I think it [the extra attention since the World Cup] is great, not only just for women and the sport … I think it is very important for our entire sport as a global community,” added Teagarden, who refereed the first ever women’s match at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2009 in Dubai between Australia and China.
“It was essential to our efforts getting into the Olympics that rugby demonstrate competition opportunities for women that was missing from our first effort of getting into the Olympic family and the work that was done, especially with the Women’s Sevens World Cup being integrated with the men’s was important.
“I think it is tremendously important for rugby as global community and as a global sport to continue to mature and I think realistically we have shown at the Women’s Rugby World Cup that women can play entertaining and exciting and marketable rugby and I think that is a positive for all of us that love rugby.”
What then does Teagarden hope the next few years will bring?
“What I always hope for as a person, as a referee as well as in my general life, is the opportunity to continue to grow and to learn and to be challenged. I am hoping that this step is part of a continuous progression, not only for myself but for my refereeing peers, my refereeing peers who happen to be women, my refereeing peers who happen to be from Tier 2 countries.
“Personally I am hoping to have further opportunities to be challenged and to get out there and be in the arena and not compete, you don’t compete as a referee, but to able to in the arena and to go forward, that is my hope.”