For International Women’s Day, EPCR is celebrating its female officials and has spoken to Hollie Davidson, Sara Cox and Dana Teagarden about their respective journeys and the significance of the day.

Davidson is an SRU referee and led an all-female officiating crew in Round 3 of this season’s EPCR Challenge Cup when she took charge of Scarlets’ clash with Toyota Cheetahs.

Cox was an assistant referee on that day and is the first – and so far, only – female referee centrally contracted at the RFU.

Teagarden was formerly in the US Air Force and became a top-level referee for World Rugby after emigrating to Germany in 2008. She has now retired and works as a Citing Commissioner.

Female officials have been heavily involved in EPCR competitions this season. For Rounds 3 and 4, there was at least one female MO/CC/JO involved in 40% of matches, in addition to Davidson’s all-female team.

Davidson, who like Cox and Teagarden progressed into refereeing after turning out as a player, highlighted the progress made when it comes to female officials in rugby.

“I would say in probably the last five or so years, opportunity has just grown and grown, and I think that’s from the entire sport side of things,” said the ex-scrum-half, who was a Scotland U20 international before injury ended her playing career early.

“So, within rugby the women’s game has grown massively and so opportunities have obviously increased for female officials.

“And I think it is one of those things where the first female has to go out there and show that we can do it, and that we are getting these appointments on merit.

“The more that becomes the norm, the more that women are put into those opportunities, it is not, I suppose, as scary, which I think is really good.”

Davidson went on to highlight how that all-female officiating team in Round 3 “really shows that [EPCR] are pushing women into these opportunities.”

“EPCR were one of the first competitions to put female officials on their roster, whether that was as assistants, or refereeing, or on TMO. They tried to appoint females on all of those gameday roles, which was great,” she said.

“And you hope through the increased visibility that other females see it and think ‘actually, do you know, I can do that, I want that chance, I want that opportunity’ – and they strive to go on and do bigger and better things.”

Cox, who also had a promising playing career ended early by injury, praised the Round 3 milestone but insisted that it cannot be a one-off.

“It was a big milestone for rugby,” she stated. “Again, just providing the opportunity for those things to happen.

“Regardless of gender, it could have been two males on the side supporting Hollie. At the end of the day, it’s about growing the profile of us who are involved in the game.

“It was good to have that exposure and it’s good to see that there aren’t those barriers to entry like there used to be.

“But again, it’s also about keeping that ball rolling and keeping that momentum for things to keep happening in the future as well.”

Teagarden added: “For me, what it’s really a positive sign of is the growth and maturity in the decision-making structures, to evolve behind conscious or unconscious bias.”

Cox, who began refereeing simply as means of staying involved in rugby, says International Women’s Day showcases how attitudes are changing towards women in sport.

“I think it is quite important,” she said. “But more than anything, it just shines the light on ways the world is starting to change now and really highlights females in sport.

“By having International Women’s Day, it’s really starting to focus the lens more on what rugby’s doing, more on how it’s embracing the female game.”

She added that occasions such as the all-female officiating team in Round 3 provide role models for other women and reiterated that such appointments should be made on ability ahead of anything else.

“I think it’s really important to have exposure and have people in positions that are willing to push females forward,” she said.

“I think the important bit is being open-minded enough to say that if you’re good enough to be there, then you can be there.

“Sometimes the possibility isn’t there because you, as a referee, might not be good enough. But there’s never been a barrier in place to say you’re not going to make it because you’re a female.

“It’s more about gaining experience and gaining opportunities, and taking those opportunities. I think that’s the really important bit at the moment.

“Regardless of the appointment, because you can’t physically control that and that shouldn’t be done just because of your gender, that should be done on merit.

“At the same time, it’s allowing the opportunities to happen in the background for you to put yourself in that position.”

Meanwhile, Teagarden hailed the diversity in EPCR’s Citing Commissioner group, which she joined back in 2018.

“The group is very much focused on merit-based performances and having diverse perspectives and viewpoints, be that gender or country of origin,” she pointed out. “Things have evolved and I’m really glad to see that for everybody’s sake.”

Teagarden echoed Cox in asserting that opportunities for women and the celebration of their achievements should go beyond simply International Women’s Day.

“You also have to broaden your market outreach, what you appeal to, and you do that by having [a range of people visible],” she said.

“People are more interested in being a part of something that they see themselves in in one way, shape or form.

“One day doesn’t make the difference. The difference happens over time. But what you do one day is you celebrate things you’ve achieved as a group, or an individual, or an organisation. Then you also highlight what your aspirations are going forward.”