Cheryl Foster’s performances at the Women’s World Cup have sparked a refereeing boom in Wales.
Foster, a former 63-times capped Wales international, has been awarded the third place play-off between Australia and Sweden in Brisbane on Saturday – her fourth game of the tournament.
The 42-year-old from Bangor refereed the Women’s Champions League final in June and her rise in the game comes at the ideal time for the Football Association of Wales, who last month launched its referee academy for women and girls.
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“Cheryl is an incredible role model for the next generation,” FAW head of women’s and girls football Lowri Roberts told the PA news agency.
“She is an excellent referee and the fact she is a former player has encouraged a lot of girls in academies and youth teams to take up refereeing.
“A lot of girls are not going to make it as professional footballers and Cheryl has shown the life experiences that are possible when you take up refereeing.
“We have developed some elite officials in Cheryl – who has been so visible at the World Cup – Charlotte Carpenter and Ceri-Louise Williams, but we do not have enough referees currently in women’s football.”
The FAW has used FIFA funding to set up the Adran Leagues Referee Academy, a targeted programme to recruit and develop referees to service the rapid growth of the women’s game in Wales.
The Adran Under-19s League will be utilised as a development platform for referees as well as players.
More than 100 women and girls have signed up for September’s induction workshops in north and south Wales. At present Wales has 52 active female referees.
Although more than 50 per cent of referees in men’s football are over 35 years of age, 80 per cent in the women’s game are under 35 and 50 per cent are under 18.
Roberts said: “Girls make up 14 per cent of the total participation numbers in Wales, 10 per cent of the coaches but only five per cent of match officials.
“This has led us to develop this targeted plan to increase the number of women officials and the bespoke mentoring and training programme will be built around the needs of our referees.
“In order to professionalise our Adran Leagues, we need to develop all areas of the game, and we hope this programme will find us the next Cheryl Foster and Charlotte Carpenter.
“We are reinvesting in the game and normalising the role of women in football and the recruitment and retainment of referees is a key part of that.”