For 15-year-old budding referee Tiana-Mae Lewis, a two-day conference organised by the NSWRL with young female officials in mind was a game changer.
Lewis, who began officiating 18 months ago in local Rugby League tackle and League Tag games in Young, southern NSW, was among 40 women from across NSW that came to Canberra for the conference, which included tickets to the Ampol Women’s State of Origin at GIO Stadium.
The conference was run by the NRL’s officiating and education department in conjunction with former NRL referee and now NSWRL Refereeing and Development Manager, Gavin Badger, to identify some of the issues and hurdles for women wanting to take up the whistle.
“It helped me build more knowledge and confidence and helped persuade me to keep chasing my dream as a referee,” Lewis said.
“Myself and many other female referees were fortunate enough to be given an opportunity to learn and practise the right way of how to make decisions and communicate in a more professional way, having control of the game and ensuring your decisions and rulings of the two teams you are officiating for is fair.
“It also brought many individuals together and discuss the worries and issues each and every one of us face and the ways we can change things.”
Shorts and shirts in men’s sizes meant the refereeing uniforms were uncomfortable and ill-fitting.
“Also, not having the space or having a confined space to change is an issue because we females are restricted with a lot less privacy and time,” Lewis said.
“Being verbally abused by men in the crowds of a football game because we are females doing a job ‘only men’ are fit for is another.
“And not having the support or help behind them in numerous circumstances, leads to girls putting themselves down and doubting all their hard work in trying to do their job to lead the game.”
Lewis said uniforms and change-rooms could be rectified but she wanted to see more follow-up from the NSWRL – and Badger said this would be a priority moving forward.
“The weekend camp was an opportunity for us to interact with young female officials from across the state and provide them with some skills training, some personal development and social skills,” Badger said.
“But the most important part of the weekend for us was the opportunity to listen.
“Hearing some of the stories of what these young females deal with week-in and week-out was eye-opening and gives us an opportunity to get on the front foot and provide a safe, comfortable, and enjoying atmosphere for these impressive young ladies to be the best they can be.”
Badger said the two-day conference also provided an opportunity for some of the game’s more established grassroots female referees to become mentors and coaches of the younger ones.
“This was led by Beverley Adams, who is currently coaching referees in the Group 3 referees association as well as coaching referees in the NSWRL junior representative and major competitions,” Badger said.
“Bev’s experiences were invaluable to everyone.”
Coming from a rugby league-mad family, Lewis said she would continue her love of refereeing.
“For me personally the reason why I love refereeing and want to pursue it as my dream is because of the opportunities you’re given,” she said.
“Having the power of conducting a game, being a role model for the audience and holding such motivation and fun towards the sport.
“And proving that anything is possible once you put time, commitment, and your mind, into it.”