Natasha Olsen’s ascent in the world of rugby has been a gradual one, but from her very first involvement with the game there were signs that she was a leader.
Although born into a sporting family, who were members of Sāo Paulo Athletic Club (SPAC) – for whom her uncles played rugby – it was not until she was at university that she first picked up an oval ball.
Even then, though, the then 19-year-old Olsen displayed an aptitude for organising. When the women’s team she had been training with folded, she put in a call to SPAC and convinced the club to start a female section.
The decision proved a springboard for success for both the club and Olsen, who would go on to represent Brazil as team manager and player at the first South American Championship in 2004. She played for her country until 2011, scoring a try at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2009 in Dubai.
Following the end of her playing career, and not wanting to give up the game she loves altogether, Olsen picked up a referee’s whistle.
Becoming a match official gave her a different perspective on rugby and enhanced her passion for it. It also set her on the path to where she is today, a member of the Confederação Brasileira de Rugby (CBRU) administrative council and second vice-president on the Sudamérica Rugby board.
“These things came [my way], and I took these opportunities, it was not something that I planned to do,” Olsen told World Rugby.
“[I was asked:] ‘We must send someone from the refereeing department to the board for the Brazilian union, would you do that?’ Yes, I can do that.
“Things are coming and when I think that I can be useful, I take these responsibilities, but it wasn't something that I planned in a way, like I wanted to do that.
“It was something that came, and I thought that I could be useful doing it.”
Developing the game
The latest opportunity to come Olsen’s way is the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Programme, having been announced as one of the latest 12 participants in March.
“I'm really grateful for this opportunity,” she said. “It comes with some challenges.
“It's amazing to be part of this group and to get to know all of these women that are working for the development of rugby in many, many countries. To get to know all these women that are doing such an amazing job is really, really awesome.
“I'm really grateful because I know I can learn a lot and with the things that I am going to learn I can help Brazilian rugby and also the rugby in the South American region.”
Olsen hopes to use the programme to both become a better leader and to grow the women’s game in Brazil from the grassroots up.
In order to help with the latter, she is keen to learn best practice from similar sized unions to Brazil and is confident that promoting 15s would help swell female playing numbers.
“I hope to get to know how to help Brazil and the South American region to develop the 15s game for women,” she explained.
“Because I strongly believe that's the pathway to develop this sport and to get more women and girls to play and also be involved in other roles of the game, such as coaching and in sports management.”
Olsen added: “We are starting to develop inside the country the national domestic competition for 15s.
“When we talk about sevens, we are talking about the high performance, Brazil has a great sevens national team. But when I am talking about the 15s, I'm talking more about the development and the roots, the base of the game inside the country.
“And it will also have [an impact] on the sevens team because we will hopefully grow the number of players and the coaches, and the high-performance department will have more players to choose from.”
One of the things that most attracted Olsen to take Barbara Pichot’s advice and apply for the programme was the opportunity to learn from its network of female leaders around the world.
However, she did not have to look far for guidance about how best to approach her time on the programme when her place was confirmed earlier this year.
Marjorie Enya was part of the first group of women to receive the scholarship in 2018 and, having also received her education in rugby at SPAC, is someone that Olsen knows well.
Since enrolling on the programme, Enya has taken her place on the CBRU administrative council and is also one of Sudamérica Rugby’s two representatives on the World Rugby council.
“She's a big friend of mine and I spoke to her when I was applying and after that, when I was announced as one of the programme's participants,” Olsen said.
“She was really happy and we are always in touch, we always talk because she is also a member of the union's board and a friend of mine.
“So, she's one of the women in rugby that I have as a model, and someone that I talk to a lot when I have doubts and [about] the things that I am willing to do. So, she's a friend and also gives me some advice.”
If Olsen continues to lead by example, then it will be her that future administrators come to for guidance in the future.