Sara Cox: England's only referee at Rio 2016 Olympics excited by opportunity

Sara Cox
Sara Cox is the first woman ever to be appointed as a full-time referee by the RFU

"Dedicated" and "hungry for success" are phrases used a lot in connection with athletes heading to compete in an Olympic Games.

But they are also applicable when you meet Sara Cox - English rugby union's only referee at Rio 2016.

After a 92-year absence, rugby union is back on the biggest stage sport has to offer, with Sevens tournaments for men and women.

"Everybody knows the Olympics is a great sporting event, no matter what sport you're involved in," said Cox, during a break between matches at the European Sevens series event at Sandy Park, the home of Exeter Chiefs.

"To have the chance to go out there and to have the best seat in the house is a fantastic opportunity."

A former player, the 26-year-old Cox turned to refereeing in 2007 after being injured, and nine years later has become the sole woman to be centrally-contracted as a match official by the Rugby Football Union.

As well as taking charge of top women's matches, Cox also referees men's games at semi-professional level in National Two South.

2016 Olympic sevens pools
Men - Pool A: Fiji, Argentina, USA, BrazilPool B: South Africa, Australia, France, SpainPool C: New Zealand, Great Britain, Kenya, Japan.
Women - Pool A: Australia, USA, Fiji, ColombiaPool B: New Zealand, France, Spain, KenyaPool C: Canada, Great Britain, Brazil, Japan

"Rugby is a game of respect, and it doesn't matter who you are, you go on the pitch and you're there to do a job. I don't see myself any different to my male counterparts," she replied, when asked the obligatory 'woman in a man's world' question.

"Over the years I've been a bit of an unknown - there's not many of us that are active at the moment, and climbing through the ranks we become fewer and fewer.

"You're there on the pitch to facilitate the game and the players don't mind that, it doesn't matter that I'm a female."

When you ask an Olympics-bound athlete what their goals are, the answer is usually pretty simple - personal best, get on the podium, maybe a gold medal - but what about a referee?

"My goal is to go far as possible, so if that means I referee the gold medal final, then absolutely fantastic," she said.

"It's not that much different for us compared to the athletes. We don't come away with a medal, but to be involved in that medal race with the teams is what you aim to do.

"I want to go out there, enjoy the experience and gather as much experience as well - and whatever comes after that comes after that."

There has never been a woman referee in charge of a Premiership rugby match.

If Cox impresses in Rio, who is to say she will not be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Wayne Barnes or JP Doyle in years to come?

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