Trailblazers: Rebecca Welch and other top female officials in men's sport

Women referees and umpires have been making a mark in football, cricket and beyond

Rebecca Welch will become the first female referee in Premier League history. PA
Powered by automated translation

Rebecca Welch is all set to become the first female referee in the Premier League. She will take charge of the match between Fulham and Burnley on December 23.

Welch, who started her refereeing career in 2010 while working in the UK's National Health Service, has already worked as a fourth official in the Premier League and was also the first woman to referee matches in the second-tier Championship and FA Cup.

Welch is now part of a growing number of female match officials in men's matches. We take a look at other such trailblazers across disciplines.

Kim Cotton

Cotton became the first female umpire to stand in a men's international cricket match between two full-member countries.

Auckland’s Cotton umpired during New Zealand's win over Sri Lanka in the second T20I of their three-match series in Dunedin in April this year. Earlier, Australia’s Claire Polosak became the first female match official in a men’s Test. She was the fourth umpire during the 2021-22 Test between India and Australia in Sydney.

Stephanie Frappart

France's Frappart made history when she became the first woman to take charge of a men's World Cup finals game during Costa Rica's Group E match against Germany at the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

Frappart had earlier entered the record books when she became the first woman to referee a Ligue 1 match in 2019.

Violet Palmer

Palmer was the first top-level female official in any major US professional sport. In 1997, Palmer officiated the NBA season opener between the Vancouver Grizzlies and the Dallas Mavericks. She was also the first woman to officiate an NBA playoff game - between Indiana Pacers and New Jersey Nets in 2006.

At the time of her retirement from refereeing due to knee issues in 2016, Palmer had refereed more than 900 NBA games.

Sarah Thomas

Thomas was the first full-time female official to be hired by the NFL. In 2015, Thomas became the first woman to officiate full time in the league. In January 2019, Thomas became the first female on-field official in playoff history and two years later, she oversaw Super Bowl 55.

Hollie Davidson

Scotland’s Davidson will make history when she becomes the first female assistant referee in a men’s Six Nations match.

Davidson, 31, has been appointed as an assistant for England’s clash against Wales at Twickenham in February. Davidson was a referee during the Women’s World Cup final between England and New Zealand in 2022, and worked as an assistant referee in three men’s World Cup warm-up Tests this year.

Updated: December 16, 2023, 11:08 AM