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Thursday 21 Dec 2023
Riley welcomes Welch to Premier League summit

The Irish Football Association's Head of Refereeing Mike Riley has outlined plans to greater diversify the match official pool in Northern Ireland and praised the ‘outstanding’ Rebecca Welch as a role model for local female referees to aspire to.

Welch is preparing to become the first female to officiate a game in England’s Premier League this weekend as she takes charge of Fulham versus Burnley.

“I have been very fortunate to work with Rebecca and witness first-hand her development as a referee in the Women's Super League, National League, EFL Leagues 1 and 2 and since last season in the EFL Championship,” said Riley. 

“As she demonstrated in the FIFA Women's World Cup last summer, she is an outstanding referee who thoroughly deserves the opportunity to referee in the Premier League and joins the likes of Sian Massey-Ellis in being another role model for young female referees to aspire to.”

Riley also confirmed that increasing the female refereeing fraternity in Northern Ireland is a key target for the coming seasons.

“We all want to see greater diversity across our community of match officials,” he said. “We will be shortly recruiting a Women's Pathway Referee Officer to lead our work developing officials for the women's game and we plan to hold a recruitment event in the spring.  

Riley highlighted several positive developments that he hopes will attract more females to take up the whistle:

“Two of our leading officials, Louise Thompson and Rachel Greer, have officiated at UEFA U17 and U19 mini tournaments in the last couple of months with another, Victoria Finlay, joining them to officiate an UEFA Women’s Nations League International between Moldova vs Malta.

“Victoria was invited to an Elite Assistant Referee Course in Nyon, Switzerland with other promising officials from around Europe and she was also appointed by UEFA as an assistant referee at the UEFA Women’s Nations League match between Moldova and Latvia and she will also be an Assistant Referee at an upcoming UEFA Women’s Champion League Group Match (MD4).”

Riley also pointed to the importance of local referees Maria Creaney and Halle O’Brien appearing in the ‘Catch Yourself On’ promotional films to launch the campaign back in August.

“Catch Yourself On was a great way to start the new season with a firm but positive message that abuse towards referees simply won’t be tolerated. Having Maria and Halle front and centre of that messaging was crucial on many levels, showing that refereeing really is open to everyone but also that, sadly, no one match official is completely immune to abuse be it verbal or physical.”