Deaf Referee: ‘I’ve an advantage; I can’t hear any of the abuse’

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Scotland’s only deaf referee has said officiating rugby matches is a stroll in the park because he cannot hear abuse from fans and coaches.

Danny Shepherd, 49, of Montrose, Angus, has never let his disability get in the way of his passion for sport.

The rugby addict began refereeing in Scotland in 2010 and has officiated as far away as Stornoway, Peterhead and the Shetland Islands.

But wherever Mr Shepherd travels, he brushes off any abuse because he is completely oblivious to it.

Mr Shepherd, who was been profoundly deaf since he was born, said: “I might be impaired but it doesn’t affect my handling of the game.

“A plus is that I can’t hear any of the abuse from the sidelines if they don’t agree with my decision.

“I’ve been impaired since birth but I’ve never let it stop me from achieving anything in my life.”

Mr Shepherd, who moved to Montrose three years ago, began playing rugby at the age of five in his home city of Sydney, Australia.

Despite his hearing disability, Danny went on to have successful spells at two top-division Sydney clubs while studying at university and went on to play for other teams in New South Wales and Queensland.

After retiring from the game, Mr Shepherd thought he would try his hand at the less physical role of being a referee and took a course with the Scottish Rugby Union two years ago.

He started off in charge of games at Grade 10 level in the 2010/11 season and has quickly worked his way to Grade Eight and hopes to keep progressing.

Mr Shepherd, who referees university games, club fixtures and women’s rugby, admits he wishes he was young enough to play the game again, but now he wants to inspire other people with hearing impairments to get involved in the sport.

He said: “I miss playing the game — except for the scrums, having played both prop and hooker. Being a referee keeps me involved in the game and my fitness levels up.

“We are also regularly assessed on our performances and that help and advice has also made me a better referee. That has been invaluable in developing my skills.

“I’m taking part in the game I love. I’m giving something back and I feel respected. I encourage others, hearing or not, to do the same.”

Bob Easton, a referee development manager at the Scottish Rugby Union said Mr Shepherd, who is able to communicate by speech and lip-reading, was an inspiration to others.

He said: “He is very enthusiastic and keen to learn and as a result has progressed fairly quickly and having completed the level two refereeing course in July 2012, he is now refereeing Grade Eight games.

“For someone with hearing difficulties he has done very well and the teams he referees speak very highly of him.”

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