Karen Naylor’s been called a ‘white bitch’ on a scorecard, had players sniggering behind her back, has been forced to amend all her uniforms to make them suitable for women and begged strangers living near cricket fields to use their toilet, but remains determined to become Australia’s first female test cricket umpire.
There may be an emergence of female players but umpiring is still a very strong male domain and it’s a door that Karen has been knocking on for more than two decades.
A grade cricket umpire, Karen has climbed the difficult ranks to also officiate women’s international matches but it was at her son’s under 10s match where it all began.
“No one wanted to go out and umpire, so I thought I would do it,” Karen tells Sportette.
“Under 8s, under 10s under 15s I did it all and I just thought, this is an amazing job.”
Spending every weekend umpiring games for hours on end, Karen was soon urged to sit her grade 2 cricket umpires exam which would enable her to officiate representative matches.
That was ten years ago, a true trailblazer, Karen is now the country’s most experienced female umpire. But despite this, Karen is forced to deal with constant criticism because of her sex.
“All the time, every day,” Karen tells Sportette.
Every day I would go out and there would be someone say “do you know all the rules?”
“Every day I would go out and there would be someone say “do you know all the rules?” and I’d say “ I know all the 42 laws of cricket”.
“There will always be a snigger “Oh it’s a female” but I conduct myself professionally.”
With so few female umpires, there have been plenty of practical issues Karen was forced to overcome, especially when officiating at isolated cricket pitches.
“There were no toilets on some fields,” Karen tells Sportette.
“It’s easy for a guy, they go by the bush, but there’s been many a time, I’ve knocked on a neighbour’s door and said “Can I go for a pee?”.
Clothes had to be amended to fit the female body shape as well.
There’s no doubt it’s forced Karen to build a strong resilience and tough skin but even that was tested just four seasons ago at a warehouse (winter) cricket match in Brisbane.
“When I gave any of them out they would write ‘White Bitch’ down on the scorebook and at the end of each match you have to sign the scorebook and I was just gutted,” Karen tells Sportette.
“I got in the car and drove out and sat on the highway and just cried. That was horrible.”
“I rang Ian (my husband) and said ‘that’s it, I don’t need this anymore’. It was one of the saddest days of my life.”
But it was Karen’s love of the game that saw her back officiating. It’s a passion that started on her father’s shoulders as a five year old.
“Dad would take me every year go to the SCG and we would be on the hill,” Karen reminisces.
“And he would go and get a beer and a shandy for me (yes! At five years old!) and ask the guy next to him if he could look after me and that’s how it all started.”
A Retirement Village Business Manager Monday to Friday, Karen spends her only two days off umpiring every weekend for up to 6 hours a day. She’s earned a scholarship with Cricket Australia but it’s test cricket she still dreams of umpiring one day.
“The emotion would be unbelievable, it’s indescribable,”
“I think about it everyday.”
There’s no physical reason why a woman can’t umpire men’s cricket and after two decades of officiating, Karen Naylor is determined to break down the barriers stopping more women from reaching such heights.
It’s just not cricket otherwise.
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