CNN  — 

Former English Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg has been criticized for making “outdated” comments about female referees.

Clattenburg, who refereed close to 300 Premier League games and also oversaw the Champions League and European Championship finals in 2016, made the comments on talkSPORT radio in light of Sara Cox becoming the first woman to referee a Premiership rugby match last week.

“The problem with women, and certainly in refereeing, certainly in football, is they have a difficult pathway if they get pregnant during their refereeing career, it can stop them a long way,” Clattenburg said.

“So they’ve got to make this choice – do they want to be pregnant, have children, or do they want to be referees?”

He later added: “Women have to make that sacrifice because if they want to be pregnant – say they get to a certain level in refereeing and then they want to get to that next level – if you become pregnant, it can cost you two or three years of your life. Once you lose that three years, somebody else takes your position.”

Clattenburg referees at a Soccer Aid match at Stamford Bridge in 2019.

Responding to the comments, Jane Purdon, CEO of Women in Football, said that Clattenburg’s “judgment is way off when it comes to referees and pregnancy.”

“Women in all professions face challenges in balancing work and family,” said Purdon.

“So do many men – but for men, this is never seen as a problem, and men are never expected to choose between the two.

“In fact, many women in elite sport are in a position to resume their sporting careers quickly after giving birth. Others take more time out – by choice or by necessity. Neither of these scenarios is a ‘problem.’

“The real problem is assumptions about female biology, and gender roles in childcare, which are lazy, outdated or plain false.”

In the Premier League, Sian Massey-Ellis has been a match official since 2010; she has spoken of how she defied doctor’s orders to return to the role after giving birth to her first child.

Earlier this year, Rebecca Welch became the first appointed female referee to take charge of an English Football League game when she oversaw Port Vale’s 2-0 win against Harrogate Town.

Clattenburg also said that a lot of female referees “struggle with the men’s fitness test” and added: “Certainly, when you have a baby, you’re out nine, 10 months. Then you’ll take another six months to recover from your body so therefore it’s nearly two years. To pass that men’s fitness test is very, very demanding.”

Rugby player Joe Marler, who was playing for Harlequins when Cox made her Premiership debut at the weekend, later tweeted: “Clattenburg’s response to my question about female referees in football on @talkSPORT this morning was disrespectful and archaic.”

CNN has been unable to obtain a response from Clattenburg to the criticism.