PETER WILLIS, president of the Referees' Association, yesterday defended the referee Wendy Toms, insisting: "She's a very good official."
Willis spoke out after comments made by Gordon Strachan, the Coventry manager, who has criticised the advent of female referees in the English game and claimed they are the result of "political correctness."
Willis said: "I think the situation is very sad. As a manager of a football club, Strachan is responsible for his players and he is entitled to his opinion on the performance of the officials, but to talk about the sex of the official is irrelevant."
Strachan was unhappy with the way Premiership assistant referee Toms ran the line during his side's home 4-3 defeat by Leeds at the weekend. He was particularly angry at Toms' failure to flag for what he thought was an offside in the build-up to Michael Bridges' winner for Leeds.
Strachan said: "We are getting PC decisions about promoting ladies. It does not matter if they are ladies, men or Alsatian dogs. If they are not good enough to run the line they should not get the job. Saturday's was the worst assistant refereeing decision I have seen this season by far and I've said that in my report.
"The fourth Leeds goal was offside by at least four yards and there were numerous other bad decisions in the game. My message is don't be politically correct and promote people just for the sake of it."
But Willis said that he felt Strachan was out of line for publicly castigating his colleague and said: "Wendy Toms in her own right is a very good referee. She is on the Fifa International Ladies' list and has a wealth of experience and has been officiating for a number of years. It's a hobby which has moved her up the promotional ladder.
"Refs are refs. We are recruiting people into refereeing and we don't ask if they are male or female. We train them and they go through the same promotion procedure, they stand or fall on their ability.
"If he [Strachan] wants to complain about the performance of a match official there's a correct procedure, a channel he can go through. But to link match officials with gender is not acceptable to me. You don't ever see me come out in the press and be critical of players or managers - we deal with it through the correct channels."
The Premier League Referees' officer, Philip Don, declined to comment on the matter and a refereeing colleague of Toms said: "Wendy is very busy with her professional and soccer life. It's been a chaotic week and she does not wish to comment."
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