12th March 2019

International Women's Day - The Officials' Line - Alison Jordan

16 March 2019 

International Women’s Day is celebrated on 8 March every year and is a focal point in the movement of women’s rights.  This year’s campaign theme of #BalanceforBetter is a call-to-action for driving gender balance across the world. 

Athletics prides itself on being a gender balanced sport and our officials play a major part in achieving this, where currently there are 59% male and 41% female officials in the UK.  In support of International Women’s Day 2019, throughout March, we will feature Officials across the UK to celebrate them and their commitment to athletics. 

Alison Jordan 

What is your role as an official?
Level 4 Track Judge, Level 4 Photo finish Judge, Level 1 Field Judge, International Photo finish Judge (IPFJ) for European Athletics, IPFJ for World Para Athletics, Level 1 course tutor for photo finish.

How long have you been officiating?
22 years. I qualified in my mid-20s when I was a postgraduate student at Birmingham University.

What inspired you to become an official?
I effectively grew up around tracks as my late father was a starter/marksman and as a child remember playing "spot Dad on the TV" with my brother, so you could say it is in the blood. I hadn’t thought about being an official until I hurt my knee while still competing as a fairly average track athlete, it was suggested by someone in the club that I could still stay involved & earn the team some points if I did some officiating. So I sat my basic level (then grade 4) track judge exam. I had fully intended to return to competing as my main activity whilst doing a bit of officiating on the side, which I did, but then fell seriously ill. I decided to retire from competing but stay involved in the sport through officiating and so started to work my way up through the officiating grades. I never expected to reach the level I am today.

What would you say to anyone wanting to get into officiating?
Don’t hesitate to do it. We may look like a pretty intimidating bunch of older people, but we aren’t. Fellow officials become your 2nd family (the majority of my Facebook friends are either my actual family or people I know through athletics). The officiating family, like blood relatives, will tease, cajole, advise, support and be there for you whenever you need them – athletics related or not. Officiating has given me some amazing opportunities, the chance to work with a very diverse and possibly quite crazy bunch of people and is my way of giving back at a local community level right up to the top levels of the sport.

What has been the highlight of your officiating career?
That’s a tough one.  The obvious answer would be the opportunities I have been given at the highest levels, including PF judge in 2012 (Olympic & Paralympic Games), Track Referee at a Diamond League, officiating at the European Para Championships, London 2017, the World Indoors last year, and in Glasgow this year at the European Indoor Championships.

Other highlights include:

·         getting to sign the world record form when Kendra Harrison broke the 100mH WR at the Anniversary Games in 2016.

·         holding my own as the only female (if you exclude the course tutor) amongst 27 men on the evaluation course for the European Athletics Photo finish Panel in Prague in 2015.

The one which stands out, though, is being contacted by a friend to tell me that I inspired her to take her take up officiating. She is now a L1 Endurance Official & has attended courses to become a L1 Track & Field Official.  That may not sound like a highlight, but I met this friend on my first day at university and you could say we were total opposites. I was often found doing something sporty (playing hockey, skiing) or even walking the 3 miles from the hall of residence to the campus whereas the word "sport" used to send a shiver down her spine. She would admit to choosing where she lived by how close the house was to a bus stop. More recently she took up running and started to appreciate what the course marshals did. Having heard where officiating has taken me, she started volunteering at Parkrun and decided to become qualified for Endurance. For the past two years she has been a spectator at the Outdoor Championships in Birmingham & has been so inspired by watching the officials at work (as well as the performances by the athletes) that she decided to give that a go as well. That may not sound like much, but I was gobsmacked (for want of a better word) when she said that I inspired her and given her the encouragement she needed to do this. She may be a friend of 25+ years, but that is probably the first time anyone has said anything like that to me.

What can we do as a sport to achieve a #BetterBalance in officiating?
Show that the sport can be "mum friendly". While you get football mums and rugby mums, for instance, do you get many athletics mums? Obviously, there are some, but many – as my mum was – are there as the support for between events. The gender stereotype still seems to exist that it is the dad who takes the child to the club for training, to fixtures & so gets roped in to help. As an athletics meeting is a whole day event rather than 90 minutes or so on a touchline, often the mum still seems to stay at home getting dinner ready, getting things ready for school etc. I speak as the mum of an 8-year old. I am lucky, I have a supportive husband  who didn’t know me before I became an official, so officiating is just part & parcel of who I am. (I also have a very understanding son who already has a good knowledge of the rules of athletics!) I know others, though, who have stopped officiating as juggling work, family & officiating became too much. We need to show that you can work, be a mum & still officiate at whatever level you wish to do so. Quite how to do this, is another matter.

Another way is perhaps to have something along the lines of "this girl can" and show officials at work (from grassroots to the top levels). Perhaps also include the parkrun volunteers & road running course marshals, even volunteers at meetings. Getting people involved in the sport in whatever way they are will then expose them to what an official does & maybe even encourage more to join the ranks, so to speak.

Find out more about International Women’s Day here

If you want to get involved in officiating, find out more information here