Aimee Barrett-Theron Reflects on Milestone Achievement 

South African rugby referee Aimee Barrett-Theron achieves a remarkable milestone in women's rugby, becoming the joint highest-capped women's rugby referee of all time alongside England’s Sara Cox. Photo: Women Boks (Twitter/X)

In a groundbreaking achievement for women’s rugby, Aimee Barrett-Theron, a former Springbok Women player, has etched her name in history as she reached a significant milestone alongside Sara Cox of England. 

Barrett-Theron recently officiated her 35th Test match, making her the joint most-capped women’s referee of all time. The match, in which Springbok Women triumphed with a resounding 77-12 win over Kenya Lionesses, took place in Cape Town. 

gsport’s Lungile Matsuma sat down with Barrett-Theron to delve into her journey, challenges faced, and the impact of her trailblazing success on inspiring future generations of referees.

First, up, congratulations Aimee! How does it feel to reach such a significant milestone and level with Sara Cox as the most-capped women’s referee of all time?

It feels amazing, probably still a bit unreal, but I’m trying to soak in the moment and truly enjoy this milestone. Sharing this achievement with my dear friend Sara Cox, who has been a pillar of support since the beginning of my refereeing career, makes it even more special. Reaching 35 tests and feeling so fresh, with a sense of anticipation for what lies ahead, is a true privilege.

Can you share some of the challenges you faced throughout your refereeing journey and how you overcame them?

Refereeing certainly comes with its fair share of challenges, and I’ve encountered plenty along the way. Initially, there were instances where I faced doubts or stereotypes about being a female referee. People would mistake me for a physio or assume I was connected to a player. These may seem minor, but they were hurdles I had to overcome. 

Additionally, the task of breaking glass ceilings and officiating prestigious games like the Currie Cup, the URC, and Craven Weekend was both amazing and incredibly tough. However, I’ve always had a strong support system around me, which has helped me navigate and surpass these challenges.

What advice would you give to aspiring young referees who look up to you as a role model?

My advice to young referees would be to ensure they are prepared as much as possible. Regular training, both physical and mental, is crucial. This includes studying the law book, analysing old games and video clips. Refereeing is hard work, and we need to be realistic about that. Embrace the challenges, learn from your mistakes, and appreciate that they contribute to your growth. So, pick up the whistle, get immersed in the game, and never stop learning. Even now, with every game I officiate, I am still learning and making notes to become a better referee.

In your opinion, how has the landscape for women referees evolved during your career?

The landscape for women referees has undergone significant changes over time, and it has been an incredible journey to witness and be part of that transformation. When I first began, there were only a handful of female referees globally. Now, in every game I attend, there are female referees emerging from club structures, actively officiating at various levels. These developments have opened up more opportunities and created a greater sense of inclusivity, motivating everyone to get involved.

Can you share any memorable moments from your 35th Test match in Cape Town?

My most memorable moment during my 35th Test match in Cape Town was when I glanced at my family during the national anthem. Seeing my wife, my seven-month-old daughter, and my mother proudly supporting me brought such immense joy. They have always been my number one supporters since day one, even though I am frequently away due to my commitments. 

Sharing this special occasion with them was truly wonderful. Additionally, celebrating with the young girls in the stands, who had the chance to meet their rugby heroes and role models, was an unforgettable experience. Witnessing their enthusiasm and seeing their dreams ignite was truly heartwarming.

How does it feel to make history and inspire other women and girls who are passionate about rugby?

If I’m honest, it feels like this is just the beginning. I have so much more I want to achieve in the game, and being able to do what I love while inspiring others is a tremendous privilege. Running out onto the field and having the best seat in the house is an invigorating experience. 

I genuinely hope that my journey continues to inspire others. Initially, I preferred to fly under the radar, focusing on my job, but I have learned the immense value of engaging with those around me and inspiring those who may choose to follow in my footsteps.

As one of the most experienced referees, what do you consider to be the most important qualities for referees to possess?

Confidence is undeniably a vital quality for referees. Initially, I employed the mantra of “fake it until you make it” to bolster my confidence. However, over time and with game experiences at different levels, that confidence grew naturally. It’s crucial for referees to own their space on the field amidst the chaos of 30 players. Backing yourself and being authentic are essential. While I admire referees like Yaka Pipper, I strive to be the best version of Aimee. Authenticity builds a more human connection with the players and ensures better reactions when making decisions in the game.

Please can you share any behind-the-scenes insights about the preparation that goes into officiating at the highest levels.

Officiating at the highest levels involves intense preparation. Contrary to popular belief, it is not just a weekly event on match days. We undergo rigorous fitness training, both on the field and in the gym, as well as visual and cognitive skills training. Prior to a match, there is extensive game analysis involving both teams, observing trends that may impact the refereeing role. Collaboration with assistant referees is vital to establish a unified approach. 

A comprehensive post-game review assesses every incident through an online system, providing valuable feedback and guidance for individual and collective improvement. It’s a continuous learning and growth process.

Photo 1 Caption: South African rugby referee Aimee Barrett-Theron achieves a remarkable milestone in women’s rugby, becoming the joint highest-capped women’s rugby referee of all time alongside England’s Sara Cox. Photo: Women Boks (Twitter/X)

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