Rebecca Welch is the first female referee to be appointed to officiate an EFL match after she was put in charge of Harrogate’s fixture against Port Vale on Easter Monday.
Here the PA news agency takes a closer look at the landmark decision.
Is this an unprecedented move?
Well, yes and no. In February 2010 Amy Fearn became the first woman to referee an EFL match when she took charge of the last 20 minutes of Coventry versus Nottingham Forest after an injury to an official. Sian Massey was the first female official to feature in a Premier League match as an assistant in Sunderland’s game against Blackpool in 2010. However, Welch is the first female referee to be appointed to an EFL fixture.
Why is it such a big deal?
Female referees have been used elsewhere for some time with Nicole Petignat becoming the first to referee a UEFA men’s game in 2003 when she oversaw a UEFA Cup preliminary-round match between Sweden’s AIK and Iceland’s Fylkir. Germany’s Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1 have both employed women officials and Stephanie Frappart was the first woman to referee a major men’s final when she took charge of the UEFA Super Cup between Chelsea and Liverpool in August 2019.
Who is Rebecca Welch?
The 37-year-old comes from Washington in Tyne and Wear and took up refereeing 11 years ago. Until a couple of years ago she was still working as an NHS administrator. She has officiated in the National League for the past three seasons and refereed at Wembley in the 2017 Women’s FA Cup final. She was recently promoted to UEFA’s elite category of officials.
How has she got her big break?
Welch has been selected following ongoing review of her performances this season, with Mike Riley (general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd) and Mike Jones (PGMOL national group director) approving her appointment. “I’ve always said, through all my promotions, I want to be appointed because I am in the top 10 match officials on that list. I never want to be appointed based on anything else,” said Welch. “I’ve got faith in the system, and I’ve been rewarded.”
Where does she go from here?
Welch believes a female referee in the Premier League could still be 10 years away – a view echoed by Referees’ Association chairman Paul Field in December who reckons the change will not be made unless the current pace of progress is significantly accelerated.