Lynne Nixey talks to COC-Tales on Olympic officiating and Gender Equity

Earlier this year, Badminton Oceania’s Administration Manager, Lynne Nixey, attended the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to fulfil the role as Deputy Referee. On top of her role at Badminton Oceania’s Head Office, she is also one of eight semi-professional referees.

The BWF have rigorous systems in place to ensure their worldwide network of technical officials retain their respective credentials and ultimately contribute to the smooth running and control of badminton games on-court and ensuring fair match play.

The BWF also release a quarterly eNewsletter for technical officials which contains the most recent highlights and developments in the technical official space, called COC-Tales.

In the most recent edition (version 33), our very own Lynne Nixey featured in an exclusive Q+A reflecting on the Tokyo experience, while commenting on the excellent and inspiring work being done behind the scenes in the gender equity space and how opportunities are becoming increasingly more available for women and girls.

Answering alongside a fellow technical official from the Tokyo 2020 Games, Iris Metspalu (an umpire from Estonia), the duo said the following:

Lynne, how did you get into badminton officiating?

I was born into a badminton family, and my father was an umpire and a referee, so I followed in his footsteps and began as an umpire. It is one of those things that if you fall into it and you are really good at it, you just keep doing it – and I did. And I have gone from strength to strength, including two Olympic Games as an umpire, and switched to the refereeing role where I am now here in Tokyo for a third Olympics, but first as a referee!

Iris, how did you get into badminton umpiring?

Unusually, I have never been a player. I have a business partner who was a player who introduced me to badminton, and then to umpiring, because he was one of the first international umpires from my country. So, one day he suggested that I give it a try and take a course in our capital city Tallinn, which I did, and now I am hooked, and it is something that I really love to do!

For the players at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, it’s 50-50, but roughly what is the current split for male/female technical officials here in badminton?

The split at these Games is 30% female and 70% male. We are trying to increase female participation, but we are actually meeting the minimum IOC guideline, so it is a good base from which to improve.

How can sports like badminton encourage a higher proportion of women and girls to have a career in officiating?

The best way is to show that it can be done. Having great role models, such as the women officiating at these Games, it sends the message that yes, it is possible, yes, women can do it, and encouraging them that there is another pathway, I guess, other than player-coach-retirement. And officiating is a really good pathway for women and men.

Visibility is very important to that…

Absolutely, and for the referee team, we make sure that we have the balance of women and men out there on the court doing exactly what needs to be done. It is great that we have the opportunity to do that.

Iris, considering that you have been able to officiate on the international stage from Estonia where there are not as many players or technical officials, how do you encourage other women and girls to take this pathway?

By showing that people from small countries where badminton is not a popular sport, you can still achieve your goals and officiate at the highest level, and here I am at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, officiating alongside colleagues from top badminton countries.

If you put your mind to it, you can do it. It does not matter if you are a woman or a man, from a smaller or larger country; if you want to do it, if your heart and mind is set on it, you can make it.

What was it like to umpire the first medal match at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games?

It gives me chills, because it such great honour, and a dream to officiate a medal match at the Olympic Games. I remember when I was invited to serve as an umpire for these Games– I had tears in my eyes. I was so proud. It is a really big thing for me. I want to thank my family and business partner who introduced me to badminton and umpiring, for their support.

Lynne, in the last few years, have you seen greater opportunities for women to officiate in badminton?

There are more opportunities for everyone, but particularly for women.

What was once a narrow focus on recruitment and retainment, has opened up giving women more opportunities. I am fortunate in that I come from Oceania, where we have always had a great system for the recruitment of women into sport and officiating and so it has been quite a level playing field for some time. And, because there are greater opportunities for women, it is motivating women to raise their level of officiating.

How is the BWF Semi-Professional Referee programme going?

The Semi-Professional Referee programme was first of the professional teams of officials off the block, so you could say we were the ‘guinea pigs’, to see if it would work.

And there has been some learnings in that first three-year cycle; how do we fit in with the overall BWF Referee team, additional roles, etc., and the impact of COVID-19 on our tournament calendar.

But it is going really well now and we have found our niche. BWF has determined the best way for us to best serve the refereeing area, and encouraging us to go further.

It is a great opportunity to be in a semi-professional position because you are assigned to more tournaments per year, and you are a part of a team who are all ‘in the same boat’ as you, that you can feed off, you can talk to, and this helps bring up your level of officiating.

Is it a career?

Being a semi-professional programme, no, we are not able to build a professional career that will sustain us at the moment, but hopefully long-term that will be different.

It would be great if someday, if we are able to recruit individuals in officiating because they know there is a possibility for it to become a full-time job–that would be the ultimate aim.

In meantime, we are happy to be a part of building the foundation toward that longer-term vision.

Iris, have you seen a shift in greater opportunities in umpiring for women?

There are more and more female umpires now in the system, with more financial investment towards development of women in badminton officiating, which is really helping.

The real value is in building both women and men together, because if you skip half of the population like women, just leave them in the background, then you are losing.

Again, like Lynne, in Estonia, we really cannot complain about not having the same opportunities like men. We have a female prime minister, a female president, and I am an example, too, and without any grants or other formal support. It is possible if you put your mind to it.

It is still possible to have a full family and professional career but officiate at a world level. And, the bonus is that officiating is a great way to expand your social circle, while helping build personal skills, like believing in yourself, self-confidence, new languages—these are all very important to me.

Lynne, what would you say to any woman who wants to get into officiating but may have doubts?

Always looks for another solution to get started and continue in your officiating, even if you come up against barriers; the opportunities are there.

If you are involved with a country, an association, or a club that is not giving you those opportunities, there are others out there.

Ask others who are already involved how they got there, and for advice, because one of the things that we are all very good at it is sharing our advice, spreading the love, letting everybody know how we got here. We are very proud of what we have achieved so far, so we are very happy to guide others how to succeed, through such ways as formal and informal mentoring.

Iris, same question…

My advice: Be like a postage stamp: stick to one goal and you will get there! This has really helped me in life, as well as mentoring.

If anyone is having doubts, I encourage them to come to us and we will share our experiences.

We look forward to more and more of us women in these roles, because when I started, I was very much in a man’s world with the vast majority of male officials. I often wear a skirt on court to show that I can succeed as a woman.

No one should be ashamed of being who they are—male or female; we just do the best we can, and rely on our experience to continue progressing…so let’s keep going!

Excerpt is taken from COC-Tales, Edition 33. Read the full issue of online here.