Who are the Gladiators referees?

We take a look at the folks behind the whistles who must enforce the rules on the new BBC reboot

Lee Phillips, Mark Clattenburg and Sonia Mkoloma are all referees on Gladiators. (BBC)
Lee Phillips, Mark Clattenburg and Sonia Mkoloma are all referees on Gladiators. (BBC)

The Gladiators may be the stars of the BBC’s newly reboot series but it’s down to the referees to ensure that each episode’s high-flying action sticks to the rule book.

Armed only with a stopwatch, an impartial attitude and their trust whistle, it’s the responsibility of Gladiators’ referees to make sure all contenders - professional or amateur - play fair and avoid cutting corners on their route to becoming arena champions.

Many of the show’s refs can be tougher and more intimidating than the dreaded Eliminator - but who are the Gladiator referees and what qualifies them to take on such an important job? Let’s take a look.

Read more: Who are the Gladiators?

Mark Clattenburg

Mark Clattenburg on Gladiators
Mark Clattenburg is widely considered one of Europe’s most accomplished referees. (BBC)

Mark Clattenburg has a long and acclaimed history of working as a professional referee. In 2004, he became a Premier League ref before graduating to a FIFA-accredited position two years later in 2006.

He has been in charge of games in all levels of the sport including the FA Youth Cup, Champions League, the World Cup, Euros, the FA Cup Final and the Olympics. In 2017 he left the Premier League to take up the job of Head of Refereeing in the Saudi Arabian Football Federation. He later joined the Chinese football league in 2019.

Considering how involved he is in the profession, it’s little surprise that Clattenburg was already very familiar with Gladiators and their in-house referees. “When I watched the show back in the 90’s everyone knew who the referee was, John Anderson,” he says. “To get the call to say I was going to be the new referee on Gladiators was such an amazing thing and probably one of the best things I've ever done in my life.”

Mark Clattenburg is considered one of the finest refs of his generation. (Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Mark Clattenburg is considered one of the finest refs of his generation. (Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Cut to 2024, Clattenburg is now Nottingham Forest's 'referee analyst' and his extensive experience has certainly come in handy during filming. “The management and communication skills that I gained as a football referee definitely helped in Gladiators,” he explains.

“You’re not just refereeing Gladiators and Contenders you're making a TV show as well, so the communication side of that and explaining a decision for the audience, is also key.”

Lee Phillips

Lee Phillips on Gladiators
Referee Lee Phillips is a firefighter and athlete. (BBC)

“I got involved helping run the fitness tests for try-outs for the Gladiators and contenders, but when I got the call about being an assistant referee I was really excited,” says Lee Phillips of getting the opportunity to join the BBC’s new take on Gladiators.

As a firefighter, athlete and fitness professional, Phillips was perfectly placed to act as one of the series’ new referees. Becoming a firefighter straight out of university, Phillips went on to win several firefighting awards and compete in the World Police and Firefighter Games in Los Angeles in 2017 and 2022.

Despite being a four-time gold world champion in the Ultimate Firefighter and CrossFit competitions, Phillips was still a little starstruck when he stepped into the Gladiator arena for the first time.

“They had the Eliminator set up and it was just really cool to actually see it in the flesh,” he smiles. “From growing up watching it on TV, to actually being there, it was unbelievable.”

Sonia Mkoloma

Sonia Mkoloma (right) looks on as Barney Walsh chats with contestant Tasha Lawrence. (BBC)
Sonia Mkoloma (right) looks on as Barney Walsh chats with contestant Tasha Lawrence. (BBC)

Gladiator referee Sonia Mkoloma comes from a professional netball background having made her sporting debut on the English national netball team, the Vitality Roses, in 1999. Since then, Mkoloma has achieved numerous successes. She’s competed in five netball World Cups, three Commonwealth Games and now finds herself as a referee on Gladiators.

“I loved the original Gladiators. I am one of four kids, so we used to muck around and fight and pretend to do Gauntlet and Duel and loved the theme song, I was a massive fan,” says Mkoloma of her personal links to the show's original iteration. “Hearing the song again gave me goosebumps.”

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 03:  Sonia Mkoloma of the Swifts passes during the round 10 ANZ Championship match between the Firebirds and the Swifts at Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre on June 3, 2012 in Brisbane, Australia.  (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
Sonia Mkoloma enjoyed a very successful netball career before Gladiators. (Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Mkoloma currently works as England Netball Assistant Head Coach but is still a little beside herself at getting to take part in this iconic sporting programme. “I started smiling as I thought it was a joke at first,” she says on discovering that she would be joining the series.

“I love Gladiators. It was a shock and a surprise, but I was super excited.”

Gladiators is available to stream now on BBC iPlayer.