A WORLD SNOOKER statement so short that it could have been a tweet has signalled the end of the employment tribunal brought by the referee Michaela Tabb (using her married name McInnes) against the governing body.

“Michaela McInnes (Tabb) and World Snooker Limited have come to a confidential accommodation regarding the claims brought by Mrs McInnes in the Employment Tribunal,” said the statement.

This would appear to suggest some sort of financial settlement whereby World Snooker and Tabb do not have to escalate legal costs any further. Confidentiality agreements have no doubt been signed.

The action was launched over a discretionary bonus paid to referees which Tabb did not receive last year. It was paid to other contracted referees.

A disagreement in Bendigo led to Tabb coming home early from the Australian Open and she did not referee on the circuit again.

As the bonus was discretionary, it was up to World Snooker which referees deserved it and which did not. They felt Tabb, for reasons including not attending the annual awards dinner, did not.

Tabb’s view was that there was an element of discrimination based on her gender. She told the inquiry: “I firmly believe that I have been discriminated against on the basis of my sex. I believe the only logical reason I have been treated differently is because I was a woman.”

In fact, Tabb’s gender was the reason she was recruited to the circuit in the first place. The World Snooker regime of 2001 wanted to freshen up the game’s appeal and, recognising Tabb’s profile in the world of pool, fast-tracked her to become a TV snooker referee.

She took to this extremely well and developed into a very good referee. After financial cut-backs in 2003 saw her contract cancelled she was reinstated and went on to officiate in a number of prominent matches, including two World Championship finals.

Crucially, Tabb won the respect of the players. That she is a woman was always secondary to the fact that she could do the job. Backstage, she was a popular, friendly figure and snooker fans also took to her.

It is impossible to comment directly on the rights and wrongs of whether a bonus should or should not have been paid without knowing all the facts, although quite why referees should be forced to attend an awards dinner is not immediately clear.

To this neutral observer, the whole affair does seem very unfortunate. It is hard to see what has been gained by it but easy to see what has been lost: a popular member of the circuit.

Referees are by no means overpaid. Some of the officials who take charge of European Tour and qualifying matches receive very little. Therefore, although the bonus was “only” £1,000, this money, in the grander scheme of things, was not insignificant.

Tabb clearly felt hard done by that she had not received it, World Snooker clearly felt there were good reasons she should not. And from that impasse, we have today’s announcement.

What is unarguable is what Tabb has achieved in terms of making snooker a sport where female officials feel confident and respected. There were women referees before her but none as prominent.

Now, the circuit includes many female officials. The recent Paul Hunter Classic final was reffed by Tatiana Woollaston. Tabb was a trailblazer and it vindicated the original World Snooker decision to fast track her.

She still referees exhibitions. It is not clear from today’s brief statement whether there is a way back for her on the professional circuit. Many will hope so. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this case, she is missed.


Photographs by Monique Limbos.