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Where Are All the Female Cricket Umpires?

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Claire Polosak umpiring Photo: Ian Bird Photography

Smash, crash, bang – hear that?

That’s the sound of some pretty established, masculine grade, centuries-thick glass being smashed in the sporting landscape. Whether it’s players, coaches, commentators and the like, women are breaking new ground at an  electrifying rate.

Cricket has definitely been at the forefront – participation rates for girls are at a record high, the introduction of the Women’s Big Bash was a huge success and the top level cricketers are now enjoying a healthy pay rise off the back of it.

Yet there’s one area of cricket that has left women behind…umpiring.

Australia wide there are just 138 female cricket umpires officiating junior cricket (level 1 qualified), just 8 classified as intermediate (with their level 2) and one, that’s right only one advanced official. That’s 147 out of more than 5000 registered umpires in Australia.

So where are all the female cricket umpires?

So where are all the female cricket umpires?

“I don’t know,” Claire Polosak told Sportette.

But Polosak, Australia’s highest ranked female umpire, is determined to find out and is conducting a survey to understand why women aren’t involved in umpiring more.

“My gut was telling me that it was a lack of awareness and a lot of the answers came back saying “I didn’t know there was a training course available”, “I didn’t know it was possible”, “we need to see more females.”

“They just don’t know it’s a possibility.”

Claire is one of six umpires on the Cricket Australia Development Panel, yep she’s the “one” on the above statistics as the only “advanced” umpire in Australia. Quick lesson in the rankings, there are 12 umpires on the elite panel who umpire all international test matches worldwide, 12 umpires on the National Panel who officiate Australia’s ODI’s and Big Bash, then six on the development panel.

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Claire Polosak in action umpiring Photo: Ian Bird Photography

Claire is currently the only female umpiring Sydney grade cricket. But her appointment didn’t trigger any floodgates to open, there hasn’t been anyone follow in her footsteps since and that was almost 10 years ago.

“It’s very male dominated,” Claire told Sportette.

“I’ve never umpired Sydney cricket with another female. I’m not the first woman to umpire grade cricket but the last one was 15 years ago.”

A cricket mad Goulburn girl, there weren’t any girls competitions when Claire was growing up but it didn’t stop her passion for the game.

“I had all the cricket posters on my walls and when I was 16 and a friend came to school and gave me a poster and said “Dad says you like cricket and should give this a go”

It was a flyer advertising the cricket umpires course. With no regional courses in Goulburn in 2004, Claire had to go to the SCG once a week for five weeks. Her dad would drive from Goulburn to Campbelltown (where she was at boarding school) to the cricket ground every week.

“and then I failed the exam,” Claire laughs.

“But it was something that I decided to do, so I actually completed the course three times before I passed the exam. I owe a tremendous amount to my Dad and family for all the support even back then.”

It paid off, Claire has now worked her way up to officiate the WBBL and was last year called up to umpire the Women’s T20 World Cup in India.

But the progress for women in umpiring hasn’t been as straight forward for some.

But the progress for women in umpiring hasn’t been as straight forward for some. Last year Sportette brought you the story of Queensland men’s grade cricket umpire Karen Naylor who has officiated for more than 20 years. One of the first to do so, Karen, like Claire, also hasn’t experienced an emergence of female cricket umpires after her but spoke in depth to Sportette about some of the difficulties she had being accepted by male cricketers.

Karen had experienced a lot of sexism in the role and even had a player write “White Bitch” on the scorecard. She grew a thick skin and her passion for cricket overcame the prejudice she felt on the pitch.

Claire says she hasn’t felt the same discrimination as Karen in her role in New South Wales.

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Claire Polosak and New Zealand umpire Kathy Cross Photo: Ian Jacobs

“My experience has been totally different to Karen’s, I’ve not had any player behaviour, I’ve had only support from the association as I’ve come through, so I was quite surprised and saddened to hear what she had been going through.”

There has been one noticeable change in the players behaviour over time though.

“When I first started players would swear and go off a bit and then apologise and now I’m more a part of the furniture. I honestly don’t think they see me as a female umpire, I think they just see me as an umpire which is where I want to be. So i’m not saying they’re more crass or rude, they just don’t differentiate their behaviour because I’m there.”

Both women are determined to see more women involved in umpiring and hopefully one day that elite test umpiring panel will feature a woman.

“A good statistic for you is that there’s been more astronauts than there have been test umpires,” Claire said.

And to think people one day denied we’d ever see man on the moon.

If you want more information on how to become a cricket umpire please contact Claire.Polosak@cricketnsw.com.au

If you would like to take part in Cricket NSW Umpires survey, here is the link.

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