Sara Cox is an English rugby union referee and former rugby union player. In 2016, she became the world’s first professional female rugby union referee, and in 2018 she became the first female to referee a Premiership Rugby Cup match.
As a player, Cox played rugby for Exeter, Saracens, Cullompton and Plymouth Albion, and had trials for England U-21. Aged 17, she decided to retire from playing the sport after an injury, and took up refereeing instead, initially part time, whilst also working for a waste management company.
Cox officiated at the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup in France. In 2016, she became the first female referee to be centrally contracted by the Rugby Football Union (RFU), and the world’s first professional female rugby union referee. In the same year, she officiated the Women’s Premiership final between Richmond and Saracens. Cox officiated at the rugby sevens event at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She was the only English referee at the tournament.
In February 2017, Cox became the first female to referee a National League 1 match. In the same year, she was chosen by European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) to officiate in the men’s Challenge Cup, and also officiated at the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland.
In March 2018, Cox became the first female to referee a RFU Championship match, when she officiated a match between Cornish Pirates and Doncaster Knights. She officiated at the rugby sevens event at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia. In November 2018, Cox became the first female to referee a match between two Premiership Rugby teams, when she officiated a Premiership Rugby Cup fixture between Northampton Saints and Wasps at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. She was also selected as an assistant referee for November 2018 men’s internationals between Hong Kong and Germany, and between Kenya and Germany. This was the first time that Cox had officiated in a men’s international match. In the same month, she officiated a women’s international match between France and New Zealand. In August 2020, Cox became the first women to officiate a Premiership Rugby league match, when she was one of Wayne Barnes’ assistants for a fixture between Bath and Wasps.