On International Women’s Day, referee Aimee Barrett-Theron has explained the support female officials receive from EPCR and how this season’s competitions have provided fresh opportunities.

With the introduction of South African clubs into EPCR competitions for the 2022-23, further officiating chances also came for Barrett-Theron, a member of SA Rugby’s national refereeing panel.

The 35-year-old, a former South African international Sevens and XVs player, made the step into refereeing after her retirement in 2013, becoming a professional official in 2018.

“With EPCR, it’s not a tick-boxing exercise,” she explained about the involvement of female officials, “We not only feel valued, but we feel welcomed and embraced. It’s about the referee, not the gender.”

An all-female officiating crew made history in this season’s EPCR Challenge Cup pool stage, taking charge of Scarlets against Toyota Cheetahs in Round 3, and Barrett-Theron was keen to laud her colleagues.

“It was amazing to see, they are all good friends of mine, I’m just so proud that we could go out and do that and put in a good performance,” she said.

“It is amazing that EPCR can stand up for their female referees, put them on a game and trust them with the game. It is important for women to see that we can control a game of 30 men.”

“The other side of it is we are at a level that everyone else can strive for – it is possible to have four female officials for a game, it is possible to have a mix of men and women – everything is possible, there is nothing holding us back now so let’s reach for those standards week in, week out.”

Barrett-Theron also expressed her excitement at being able to officiate teams from different countries and use the opportunity to develop her skills as a referee.

“Each tournament has its own style, its own adventure that comes with each game, it’s a great learning opportunity and to be able to travel and ref different teams than I’m used to, I think it’s great and it expands my own reffing abilities and experiences.

“As a ref, we don’t put out the same performance every week, we try to understand the teams in our preparation the week before, we try to learn what they are trying to achieve and how they play and try and ref according to that.

“Maybe one team lacks the quick ball, and they want to throw it around, so you adjust according to that. Then you’ve got some other teams who are great at the set piece – you could even have two completely contrasting teams on the field.

“I love the difference in the styles of teams, and the intensity of the matches in EPCR competition.”

Both in EPCR competitions and domestically, Barrett-Theron has noted that a previously ‘male dominated’ world of rugby is now embracing the role of women from the top to the bottom of the sport.

“I know week in, week out, when I travel to my games domestically, there is just more and more females that are either sideline officials or running the table, they are wanting to be the next female referee everyone has started to embrace it,” she noted.

“We’ve reached the stage where the refereeing performance is more important than gender. So, if I keep performing well it means there will come be opportunity for the women in South Africa.”

International Women’s Day is a global event that aims to celebrate women’s achievement, raise awareness about discrimination and inspire action to drive gender parity.