Nievas: World Rugby committed to supporting female referees

World Rugby’s Referee Development Manager, Alhambra Nievas is confident that progress made in the support of female match officials can be maintained amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

World Rugby’s Referee Development Manager, Alhambra Nievas is confident that progress made in the support of female match officials can be maintained amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

No rugby is currently being played as countries across the globe remain in lockdown but the situation has not completely prevented green shoots of growth from appearing around the world. 

Sudamérica Rugby announced its first official Women’s Referee Panel at the end of April, with its 12 representatives drawn from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Colombia and Paraguay. 

And in a bid to “not leave any union or region behind” during the crises, Nievas and her colleagues have implemented a Virtual High Performance Academy, aimed at both female and male match officials.

The programme, which began on 14 May, provides participants with technical content to review while Nievas, Alain Rolland, Paddy O’Brien and Craig Joubert conduct online sessions every fortnight.

Eight female referees, representing Belgium, Canada, Germany, Italy, Kenya, Samoa, USA and Zimbabwe, have been enrolled on the course.

“All the referees, male and female, are working together and this is a tool to [help us] be as well prepared as possible for the moment we will be back on the field,” Nievas said. 

“We are really excited about this programme.”

Preparing for pinnacle events

The Virtual High Performance Academy leads on from the work done at the first ever Women’s High Performance Academy in Stellenbosch 12 months ago.

Several of those who travelled to South Africa are involved in the current programme, and with a Rugby World Cup and Olympic Games on the horizon in 2021, Nievas believes it is imperative that their development is not negatively impacted.

The Spaniard added: “This is a good opportunity to invest this time to go through the key areas of the game and agreed guidelines, preparing us as match officials to be more consistent when rugby restarts.

“Especially for World Rugby, considering that we have the Olympics and Rugby World Cup next year. They are the two pinnacle rugby events, so it is important to keep engaging and working with current panels.

“This is why we are very conscious and everyone has been proactive in how we can work through these exceptional times.”

Although the Virtual High Performance Academy is not aimed at professional match officials, Nievas is full of praise for the work being done by the senior referees on World Rugby’s panels. 

Aimee Barrett-Theron, Amy Perrett, Hollie Davidson, Joy Neville, Rebecca Mahoney and Sara Cox have all earned either full- or part-time contracts with their unions, having gained experience officiating the biggest competitions in rugby — male or female.

Nievas revealed that work was being done to keep those match officials “engaged and in touch with each other” through online and technical sessions.

Promoting culture change

“That is important because when people usually see us on the field we are ‘alone’, but we are not and operate as a team,” she explained.

“At this difficult time, top senior referees are also leading, sharing, contributing and engaging with our squads. That is great to see.

“We are working with our current sevens and 15s World Rugby panels, and then we are also doing several development projects through the regions.”

Barrett-Theron, two-time RWC winner Mahoney and Neville were all fast-tracked into international refereeing having enjoyed successful playing careers at test level.

Current Black Fern Selica Winiata, a RWC 2017 winner, and former Canada full-back Julianne Zussman are both hoping to follow in their footsteps having been identified by World Rugby due to their knowledge, skills, conditioning and high-performance experience.

“It is also important to generate opportunities in order that more female referees are seen as match officials, not as female match officials,” Nievas said. 

“And [match officials] refereeing rugby, not only refereeing women's games.”

Nievas believes there must be a “culture change” across unions and regions to ensure that opportunities for female match officials continue to improve. But she believes that such prominent women in the game also have an important role to play.

“All these examples are our role models for the next generation coming, and I think it's very important that we keep moving forward together, having this conversation and this culture change.”

Last updated: Jun 15, 2020 11:52:18 AM
World Rugby Women in Rugby Launch
Women's Feature News Women in Rugby women-news-power
Between the Lines: Katie Sadleir
On the latest episode of the World Rugby podcast, World Rugby’s General Manager of Women’s Rugby, Katie Sadleir, talks to Sean Maloney about growing the game across the world.
Jo Yapp of England
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby Women-news-coach
Jo Yapp planning for the long-term at Worcester Warriors Women
Jo Yapp talks to World Rugby about her promotion at Worcester, working with the Barbarians and her coaching philosophy.
Kazakhstan's Anastassiya Khamova
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Kazakhstan women aiming for Rugby World Cup return
Once one of the leading women’s teams in international rugby, Kazakhstan are attempting to mount a revival in 15s rugby.
Portia Woodman - Sao Paulo Sevens
Olympics Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby Women-news-sevens
Commentator Rikki Swannell picks seven women who helped change the face of rugby sevens
Sky Sports Rugby commentator Rikki Swannell picks seven players who embody the growth that women’s sevens has made since the inaugural World Rugby Sevens Series.
Elaine Vassie
Women's News Women in Rugby women-news-power Women-news-coach
Elaine Vassie putting down roots with the Dallas Jackals
Dallas Jackals assistant general manager and assistant coach Elaine Vassie talks to World Rugby about her new life in the USA, where she is helping the game to flourish.
HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens 2019
Feature News Women in Rugby Women-news-coach
Chiharu Nakamura takes on new challenge to grow women’s game in Japan
Japan sevens star Chiharu Nakamura has taken on the role of player/general manager for a brand-new club in Fukuoka, eager to create more opportunities for women’s rugby in the country and a career pathway when the time comes for players to hang up their boots.
HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series logo for generic releases
Media release Sevens News Tournament News Women in Rugby mz-advisory Challenger Series
New Zealand awarded titles as HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020 concluded
The remaining rounds of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020 have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Zealand All Blacks School Visit
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby Women-news-coach
Melissa Ruscoe ready for next step on rugby journey
Melissa Ruscoe, who captained New Zealand in both rugby and football, talks to World Rugby about her career and coaching ambitions.
Chloe Hill-Huse
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby women-news-regions Women-news-coach
Chloe Hill-Huse on developing as both a player and official in Canadian rugby
Canada U18 hooker and certified referee Chloe Hill-Huse is keen to emulate compatriot Julianne Zussman’s success.
WRWC 2017: Final - England v New Zealand
Women's Rugby World Cup News Tournament News Women in Rugby women-news-2021
Rugby World Cup: The story so far
World Rugby takes a stroll down memory lane to look back at the eight previous women’s editions of Rugby World Cup.