Premier League assistant referee Massey-Ellis on women in football: ‘We’re not there as a tick box’

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The official explained the gender discrimination she’s faced and the positive legacy she wants to leave behind

Premier League assistant referee Sian Massey-Ellis has urged fans to view women in football as deserving of their roles instead of using outdated stereotypes about them being there “as a tick box”.

Speaking from personal experience on International Women’s Day, she outlined some of the gender-related vitriol she’s encountered in response to doing her job. She said she hopes to contribute to an atmosphere where the next generation of women feel more comfortable around the game.

Massey-Ellis has patrolled Premier League matches since 2010, gaining widespread recognition for her work. She also became the first English woman to officiate in a men’s European fixture in 2019.

What has been said?

“That’s the stereotype I would want to challenge: That we are good enough to be there and if we’re there, we’re not there as a tick box,” Massey-Ellis told the official Premier League website.

“For me I’ve come through exactly the same pathway and exactly the same tests and challenges as male referees.

“The challenge of the perception that we don’t know what we’re doing – it’s always been there.

“It’s always been, ‘Women don’t know the offside rule. Women don’t know what football’s about so they shouldn’t be involved.’

“I want to be able to support other referees coming through. I always say that once I’ve finished my career I want to be making sure we’ve got the next generation of referees and sportswomen coming through.

“It’s really important we create an atmosphere where they feel safe, an environment where they feel safe.”

Discrimination faced

Massey-Ellis was questioned at almost every step of her path to the Premier League because of gender, making the continued remarks about her place in football all the more infuriating.

She’s dealt with sexist comments from TV analysts and been subjected to the epidemic of social media abuse that has roiled the football world over the past decade. Plus, controversial behaviour from players toward her always carries the potential to create unwanted international news.

The 35-year-old hopes her experiences can at least pave the way for those who follow.

“When I said, ‘Can I be a referee?’ That shouldn’t be a question any other female has to ask any more,” she said.

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