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
England v New Zealand - Rugby World Cup 2019: Semi-Final
World rankings Women's Men's Feature News Women in Rugby
The World Rugby Rankings in numbers
We take a look at some of the eye-catching numbers from the World Rugby Rankings in both the men’s and women’s game.
Photo of captain Babalwa Latsha playing for South Africa against Scotland
Feature News Women in Rugby women-news-power
Flying the flag for women’s rugby: Babalwa Latsha, the first African women’s player to go professional
Springbok women’s captain Babalwa Latsha made history when she became the first African women’s rugby player to turn professional in January 2020. Here she shares her rugby journey and hopes for the growth and development of the women’s game.
Rio 2016: France and Spain women run out at Deodoro Stadium on day one
Olympics Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby Women-news-sevens
Rugby at the Olympics: Creating sevens history at Rio 2016
Patricia Garcia, Jade Ulutule and Pierre Gilles Lakafia talk to World Rugby about Rio 2016 and their roles in the first men’s and women’s sevens matches to be played at an Olympic Games.
World Rugby logo - one to use for generic releases
Media release Women's Men's News Tournament News Women in Rugby mz-advisory
International rugby set to resume in October as World Rugby Council approves temporary 2020 COVID-19 calendar
An exciting programme of international matches is set to take place later this year after the World Rugby Council approved a temporary adjustment to Regulation 9 to accommodate the release of international players for revised 2020 windows.
2020-SevensSeries_mark_generic
Men's Media release Women's Sevens News Tournament News Women in Rugby mz-advisory Challenger Series wr-covid19
Plans revised for HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2021
World Rugby and its partners are continuing to focus on planning for the 2021 Series and the build-up to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, which are now less than one year away
HSBC Sydney Sevens 2020 - Women's
Olympics Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby Women-news-sevens
One Year To Go: Japan hope to establish sevens culture through Tokyo 2020
Kensuke Iwabuchi and Hitoshi Inada talk to World Rugby about their hope that the Olympic Games will leave a lasting legacy of sevens in Japan.
Barbarians Women Training
Women's Rugby World Cup News Tournament News Women in Rugby women-news-2021
Wales and Bristol Bears’ Elinor Snowsill on life as a gay woman in rugby
The fly-half opens up about her journey through the game and states why “it’s still really important” to talk about LGBTQ+ issues today.
Iran - Germany women
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby women-news-regions
How women are changing the game in Iranian rugby
We take a look at the history of rugby union in Iran, a country where more women play the sport than men.
Rugby - Olympics: Day 6
Olympics Women's Sevens News Tournament News Women in Rugby Women-news-sevens
One Year To Go: Looking ahead to Tokyo 2020
As the countdown to the Tokyo Olympic Games begins in earnest, we take a look at the frontrunners, the most-improved teams and those set to make their debut.
World Rugby logo - one to use for generic releases
Media release Women's Men's News Tournament News Women in Rugby mz-advisory
World Rugby Executive Committee recommends 2020 temporary COVID-19 international calendar
The World Rugby Executive Committee has today recommended a revised temporary 2020 international calendar with the express objective of optimising recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic for the betterment of the global game at all levels.