Former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg has been criticised for saying female officials have to decide between their career and having children.
Clattenburg was asked about the absence of female referees in elite men's football after Sara Cox became the first woman to referee a Premiership rugby match last weekend.
Image: Sara Cox took charge of Harlequins' Premiership game against Worcester on Saturday
Rebecca Welch became the first female referee to be appointed to an English Football League match earlier this year, while Sian Massey-Ellis has worked as an assistant referee in the Premier League for the past decade.
Speaking to talkSPORT, Clattenburg, who officiated the Champions League and European Championship final in 2016, said: "The problem with women is, and certainly in refereeing in football, they have a difficult pathway if they get pregnant during their refereeing career - it can stop them a long way.
"So they have to make this choice: do they want to be pregnant or do they want to be referees?"
In response to Clattenburg's comments, Women in Football CEO Jane Purdon said in a statement: "Mark Clattenburg enjoyed a successful career as a match official but his judgement is way off when it comes to women referees and pregnancy.
"Mark says "the problem with women" is having to choose between carrying a child and their refereeing career, and that being pregnant "can cost you two or three years of your life".
"Women in all professions face challenges in balancing work and family. 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 The real problem is assumptions about female biology, and gender roles in childcare, which are lazy, outdated or plain false."
Harlequins and England international Joe Marler, who was a radio guest and asked the initial question about female referees in football, tweeted his shock at the "disrespectful and archaic" comments by Clattenburg.
Clattenburg added, in his view, an explanation for a lack of female officials in the men's game was that they might also struggle with passing the fitness testing requirements.
"They also have to pass the men's fitness tests and a lot of women struggle with the men's fitness tests; because, if you want to be in the men's game, you have to meet that criteria," he said.
"If they pass all this and then choose the right path, I believe that women should be involved in the men's game as well as women being involved in the women's game."
When invited to clarify his views, Clattenburg added: "Certainly, when you have a baby, you're out nine or 10 months and then you'll take another six months to recover from your body, so therefore it's nearly two years. And to pass that men's fitness test is very, very demanding."