For English rugby referee Sara Cox, making history is just a part of her job. She has broken countless barriers throughout her short officiating career, including her role as the first professional female rugby referee with Rugby Football Union in 2016. Since then, her record-breaking strides towards greater equality have not slowed down.
Cox’s journey to becoming a referee began when she was a teenager. In secondary school, she begged her rugby club coach for a women’s team and went on to participate in many trials for the England women’s national team. However, when she was 17 years old, she realized her injuries were taking a toll and her heart wasn’t in the game the way it was before.
“I don’t think that spark was there,” she told The Telegraph.
Though playing was in the past for Cox, rugby was not. She tried her hand at refereeing and never looked back. After becoming the first woman to earn a central contract with RFU, she became the first female assistant referee in a Premiership Rugby league match in 2018. According to The Week, RFU characterized Cox’s feat as a “‘breakthrough’ for women in rugby.’”
Cox made history again in 2020 after becoming the first female official for a Gallagher Premiership fixture. Her assignment to this prominent position was widely praised by fans and rugby leagues alike.
Cox’s contribution towards a more equal rugby experience for all has helped usher in a new era of female referees alongside Amy Perrett, who became the first female referee in a Super Rugby match in Australia the same week Cox was an assistant official in the Premiership League match in 2018, and Clare Daniels, who also became an assistant referee in England. For Cox, making history is not her end goal — it is carving a path for the future of women in rugby.
“I’ve been caught in the middle of a ruck before. I’ve had studs across the shin before for getting too close, but it’s not about me.” she told The Telegraph. “It’s about the generation of girls behind me who say, ‘Do you know what? I’m interested in rugby because of her.’”
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