Goal umpire Chelsea Roffey is adamant she will have the best seat at the MCG on Saturday when she takes her spot as the first female to umpire at the most prestigious game of the season; the AFL Grand Final.
Having been the emergency in the last two Grand Finals, the football-crazed girl from Queensland has quickly proven that gender holds no limitations to her critical umpiring eye.
After making some decisions considered controversial in the Sydney and Collingwood Preliminary Final, many critics had doubts about whether the selection panel would give Chelsea the go-ahead for Saturday.
However, having umpired 121 games since debuting in 2004, with 20 of those in the 2012 season, she has unquestionably earned her spot on the last Saturday in September.
Chelsea has defied many expectations and is still currently the only female in the league to hold AFL umpiring credentials, with Jeff Gieschen calling her inclusion a definitive moment for the league and the future of AFL.
“I think the message is to any young women out there that would like to become an AFL umpire, if you’ve got Chelsea’s mindset, if you’ve got that determination, you can do it as well,” Gieschen said.
This move by the AFL is definitely a step in the right direction regarding the future involvement of women in the game. It is encouraging to see the contributions of women like Chelsea are not being left unrecognised.
Some critics have claimed that her appointment is simply for the symbolic purposes of including a female rather than her actual umpiring ability. However, those who have followed Chelsea’s progress would know that this is not the case.
She has never received any special treatment, going through all of the same avenues and processes as the other umpires, including physical training. She has worked just as hard as her male counterparts to get where she is today, if not harder, by also having to overcome the bounds of stereotypes and gender-fuelled criticism.
Although it is the very fact that she doesn’t want her gender to become a novelty, that earns her the most respect amongst the footballing community. She doesn’t play up the fact that she is a female by believing she deserves special circumstances and appreciation.
“The fact I’m a woman doesn’t really come into it,” Chelsea said. “So much work goes into umpiring; to have the opportunity to go out and do a Grand Final is something I know I worked hard for.”
Even though this is huge milestone for the development of the AFL, one that should be recognised and praised, we must remember to not let Chelsea’s gender overshadow the huge achievement and honour she has earned herself.
“It’s about showing you have the skill for the job. I think it really has to stop being about gender,” she said.
Ultimately, it is her accomplishments that should be recognised; the fact that she has conducted her umpiring in an exceptional manner throughout the duration of the whole season. That fact alone, irrespective of her gender, is reason enough to celebrate this momentous occasion.