Denise Parnell to become first female referee as Wimbledon's women's takeover continues
Wimbledon is to introduce a female referee, for the first time in the history of the Championships. Denise Parnell, a player from the 1980s who made one appearance at Wimbledon, is expected to fill the role.
Parnell’s appointment would continue a women's takeover of the event. Sally Bolton became the All England Club’s first female chief executive in 2020, while Debbie Jevans – formerly director of sport at the 2012 Olympics – was recently announced as the club’s next chair.
The referee is the top official at a tournament, with responsibility for the biggest calls. In a high-profile recent example, at the 2020 US Open, Soeren Friemel – the German referee who was later suspended following an alleged abuse of power – defaulted Novak Djokovic for striking a loose ball into a line judge’s throat.
At Wimbledon, the role has been filled by Gerry Armstrong, who is 68, since he took over from the long-serving Andrew Jarrett in 2020. Armstrong will oversee one last Championships this summer. Parnell, who is 62, has been one of the tournament’s small group of assistant referees since 2006.
Jarrett recently published a book, Championship Points, in which he defined the referee’s role as “overseeing it all, making the draws, deciding the orders of play, fining the bad boys and girls and managing the whole tennis side of an event”.
Jarrett’s own predecessor, Alan Mills, is best remembered for standing anxiously at the back of Centre Court whenever rain-clouds hovered nearby, and nodding to the ground staff when he felt it was time for the covers to come over.
The addition of roofs to the two main stadiums has tweaked this process, so that the referee now decides when to switch to indoor conditions, but debates still rage over such niceties.
Fans of Rafael Nadal, for instance, remain furious about the All England Club’s decision to conclude his 2018 Wimbledon semi-final against Novak Djokovic under the roof when it was not raining (on grounds of consistency from the three sets that had been played on the previous, drizzly evening).
Given that Nadal – who is far more effective in outdoor conditions – lost 10-8 in the final set, and that Djokovic then thumped a half-fit Kevin Anderson in the final, the Nadal-istas argue that their man would now be two titles ahead on the grand-slam leaderboard but for that ruling.
Wimbledon's progressive rulings
Once a classically white and male-dominated enclave, the All England Club has moved towards greater diversity in recent years, and the presence of multiple women in the leadership team must have influenced the decision to allow coloured underwear for this summer’s Championships.
Previously, the all-white rule had been enforced for every item of clothing. Some players – including former British No 1 Heather Watson – have spoken of their anxiety over getting their periods during Wimbledon fortnight, and a pressure group picketed the gates during last year’s tournament.
“I absolutely appreciate that my gender is a story,” Bolton said following her appointment in 2020. “It’s important for women and girls to be able to see it’s possible to achieve senior roles in sport. I’m very supportive of diversity in the boardroom, and in sport generally.”