Doing a "man's job" was this female referee's best decision

May 31, 2019


In early May, Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) referee Gabriel Lee-Lehner (Lee Wing-yi) received the Asia Rugby "Carlson Lim" Award at the HKRU Annual Dinner - all but confirming her status as one of Asia's most prominent referees. 


However, her journey to the top was unconventional. 


Initially a rugby player who represented Hong Kong at both 15's and 7's level, she made the switch to become a referee in 2007.


A choice, as she describes, that was made after being offered the once-in-a-lifetime chance to go to the Rugby World Cup, albeit in an officiating role. 


Indeed, it would take a whole decade later for Hong Kong's Women to secure historic qualification for the 2017 edition in Ireland. 



"I was very happy about that. I knew Carlson for years. He's a very nice man and he put a lot of effort into Asian Rugby. It's an honour to have received this award." said Lee-Lehner. 


But her latest accolade is merely one of many achievements. 


As if being Hong Kong's first female referee wasn't enough, she quickly built an international presence by becoming the first female referee in the 2009 Dubai Rugby Sevens World Cup Final, as well as refereeing the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games Women Sevens Finals. 


However, the former USRC Tiger (then-DeA Tigers) singles out her refereeing experience in the 2016 Rio Olympics for the Rugby Sevens as the most memorable.


Photo credit: HKRU 


Fast-forward to the present and Lee-Lehner has paved the way for other female referees in the city, with the HKRU organising a refereeing course catering exclusively to ladies in May. 


"We got more female referees than a couple of years ago." she said. "Now there are about ten active referees."


Improving the space for rugby in Hong Kong, it's evident that she has brought both quality and equality to the global game. 


While refereeing may seem something of a thankless task from the outside, it is helped by deriving pleasure from the job. 


"What makes a good referee is to have a good sense of the game and to enjoy it." she added. 




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