Double act: meet the referee taking on Super AND Wheelchair Rugby

Tue, Mar 7, 2023, 9:00 PM
Rugby Union SA
by Rugby Union SA

To mark International Womens Day, South Australian Rugby is celebrating the success of rising SA referee Jamie Wilson!

Jamie (29) is the SARURA (South Australian Rugby Union Referees Association) secretary and last weekend made her sideline debut assisting at Super Round (Moana v Chiefs).

In addition, Jamie is currently being mentored under Rugby Australia’s Female Match Official Leadership Program, which serves to identify female leaders in the match official community.

She's also an accredited Wheelchair Rugby National League referee and was interviewed for The Advertiser last week...

How did you get started as a ref?

I’ve been refereeing formally for 3 years – but I used to run touch for my dad down at Brighton and I also helped ran the bar there for 8 years.

I can’t play contact sport for medical reasons but my dad loves rugby so I started refereeing as a way to connect closer with him.

He gets a bit sad when we’re assigned different games to referee now.

Why do you referee rugby? What's in it for you?

I just enjoy the community of referees, especially the girls here in Adelaide.

For me it’s the camaraderie, the inclusion and as long as I’m enjoying it and having fun I’ll keep doing it.

I don’t really care about appointments, I just want to have fun and be the best I can be.

Tell me about the Female Match Official Leadership Program!

Each club association put forward some nominees so myself and Amanda Sheeky went along.

We’ve realised our community isn’t as far behind as others - some states don’t have any female representation at all (or uniforms) so we're doing pretty well.

But the whole program was a great opportunity, now I’ve got a mentor in Melbourne and it’s exciting to see where it can take me.

Would you be interested in pursuing refereeing as a full-time profession?

It’d be great, sometimes I think I’m too old for that (29) but as far as pursuing it full time, I’ll take as far as I can and as far as is enjoyable.

In my first year I just ran touch and worked with under 12s but at the end of my second year in 2021 my referee coach told me he wouldn’t coach me any more if I didn’t want to step up.

So I ended up finishing the season in reserve grade and now I’m comfortable refereeing wherever.

080323 - jamie wilson wheelchair ref

Do you want to be in the middle for those big games, finals etc?

It’s not that I’m not chasing big games, it’s just that I want to do well no matter where I go.

My job every week is to make sure I’m better than I was the week before so if that’s a path that leads me to higher games and higher levels and I’m enjoying it, then that’d be great.

Referee abuse is a serious problem across all sports. Can you tell us about your experiences?

In my first year, I copped a lot of abuse on the sideline so I found it a lot easier when I was in the middle.

I’ve worked in retail, I’ve worked in mental health, I’ve worked in a bar so I’ve got a lot of experience in identifying concerns early or putting people in their place when needed.

Often players get dysregulated but they’re not aware – sometimes I’ll ask players to just take a moment and reconsider their emotion or attitude when they approach me and take an extra minute.

Players don’t realise the manner in which they’re speaking sometimes and I think that’s a good way to help regulate players on the field and ensure referee interactions are respectful.

Do you think abuse is what's preventing more people from becoming referees?

100 per cent. There’s an expectation that referees should be perfect and see everything but the reality is that players aren’t perfect - they make errors too - and coaches will look at their players making mistakes and say that’s reasonable.

As referees, we probably don’t get that same allocation or leniency.

Tell us about being a female rugby referee.

I think women bring that level of game empathy as referees & we accept everyone makes mistakes.

I don’t think we’re as harsh and we listen well - if a coach comes up to me with a problem or says something was wrong I’ll go off and research and double check, then take it back to that individual.

It works to de-escalate situations both on and off the field.

You're also a wheelchair rugby referee! How did you get involved in that space?

I’m an occupational therapist by background and I was asked to come down a few years back and told it’s basically the same.

It's not! All the other wheelchair referees have a basketball background and I’m the only one who came from rugby.

When I did my first national tournament (in 2021), I’d only been with the team for 8 weeks so I went as team manager but last year I got my Level C (national accreditation) and went along to nationals as well.

I’m the only ref in South Australia, there’s a few in Sydney and Brisbane, maybe 9 in total across Australia but it’s really cool and the game itself is savage.

What would you say to encourage people to try refereeing in South Australia?

I’d just encourage as many people as possible to come down and try it out – it’s a great community and we look after each other.

We’ve got over 40 registered refs this year and there’s more women joining as well, we’ve got 7 and that’s including a few new girls so just come down and give it a go!