Kim Cotton, in a historic moment, became the first-ever female umpire to stand in a men’s international match between two ICC Full Member countries. Kim Cotton was umpiring the second men’s T20 match between New Zealand and Sri Lanka in Dunedin.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) took to Twitter to share the news of this historic moment in cricket. In the match, Kim, a New Zealander, took the field with another New Zealand official, Wayne Knights. The representation of women in sports has witnessed a gradual increase in the past few years.
Since 2018, the 45-year-old cricket umpire has officiated in 16 women’s one-day internationals and 44 T20 matches. She has umpired a number of Women’s World Cup matches. In February, Cotton umpired the Women’s T20 World Cup between Australia and South Africa.
Cotton has also served as an on-field umpire for the 2022 Women’s World Cup (50-over). Additionally, she was appointed as the first woman to umpire in an international men’s match in 2006 in a One Day International between Ireland and Scotland. Adding to her list of achievements, Cotton was the first female TV umpire in a men’s senior T20 competition in Canterbury-Central Districts.
Cotton, who believes that she hasn’t faced any scrutiny for her gender, added in an interview, that, “The players test you just like any other umpire – they’re just interested in making the right judgments, and that’s what we want as well”.
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Prior to Cotton, Australia’s Claire Polosak had become the first female umpire to stand in a men’s international one-day match in the 2019 World Cricket League Division finale between Oman and Namibia. During the 2021-22 Border Gavaskar Trophy Test between India and Australia in Sydney, Polosak also served as the fourth umpire. With this feat, Polosak became the first female match official in a men’s Test match.
Not just the female umpires abroad are making a mark, but recently in the Ranji Trophy Vrinda Rathi, N. Janani, and V. Gayathri became the first females to officiate in the history of this tournament.
All three women umpires come from different backgrounds. Delhi-based Gayathri, 44, a former cricketer suffered a shoulder injury that had put a stop to her cricketing career. But, in 2019, after passing the BCCI exam, she started her second innings in cricket with umpiring.
Janani, 37 years old, who previously worked as a software engineer, had approached Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) to become an umpire. She started her umpiring career in 2018 after the state cricket body changed the rules to allow women to officiate. Rathi, 33, who hails from Mumbai was a scorer in local matches before she cleared the BCCI scorers exam. She went on to become BCCI’s official scorer in the 2013 Women’s World Cup. She then moved to umpiring.
Recently, in a historic first, Rathi also became the first female from India to serve as an on-field umpire in the Women’s T20 World Cup in South Africa.
This year’s Under-19 Women’s T20 World featured an all-female panel to officiate the matches. In an article on Crictracker, ICC manager of women’s cricket, Snehal Pradhan stated that “When young women and girls see it, they believe that they can be it. That’s just one of the reasons why having this match officials panel is so special.” Pradhan added, “It shows the next generation that there is a career and a pathway that takes them to the very top of the game, the World Cup, even if you’re not a player. It shows that there are so many ways to get involved“.
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It’s the achievement of these female umpires that is inspiring more and more women to pursue a career in sports. There are many ways to be involved in sports and umpiring is one of them. A lot of the women umpires come from different professional backgrounds. Their accomplishments pave the way for the growing representation of women in sports.
Agenbag, who was the first South African woman to stand in a Women’s T20 international in 2019, stated in a report that “The ICC Development Panel allowed me to go to women’s World Cups, work in high-pressure situations, including doing televised games, which is a big skill one needs to develop.” She further added, “Though men in this space have never treated me differently because I’m a woman, coming into [the set-up], I was a little bit sceptical because it’s male-dominated with not a lot of female presence around. So, it helps to have trailblazers like Claire, Kim [Cotton], Sue Redfern, Kathy Cross as good mentors, and have more women’s cricket televised matches, because if that’s where most women umpires are at, you’ve got to give young girls the exposure to see that.”
Though in cricket, female umpires are still under-represented, women’s participation in the sport is increasing with the passing days. The discussions around females in sports have paved the way for women to be involved in different spheres of the sports industry. From field to management, women are taking up various roles in sports.
Cricket as a sport was seen as a male-dominated sport, a few years back. However, currently, the growing popularity of female cricket and the introduction of leagues for women have contributed to bringing positive change for women in sports.
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Shubhda Bhosle, one of India’s youngest female umpires and also one of the four umpires on an all-women panel of match officials in the 2022 Legends League Cricket tournament in Oman, said in an interview with Al Jazeera, “The rise of women’s franchise leagues has also been a key driver. The short-format [nature] of the competitions allows scope for back-to-back power-packed tournaments [for an umpire to sign up]”.
Sport is recognised as an important cultural institution that contributes to the establishment and reinforcement of gender inequalities. The progress in providing more opportunities for women in sports will have a significant effect on enhanced women’s participation.