Spanish referee Alhambra Nievas hopes for a day when refereeing discussions will be non-gender specific and focused on pure ability alone. But, in the meantime, she is happy to blaze a trail for female officials in the sport worldwide.
Nievas broke new ground on 14 October when she became the first woman to referee a men’s international in Europe, taking charge of Finland’s Rugby Europe Conference 2 North match against Norway in Helsinki, which ended in a 15-8 win for the home side.
“I think this next step in my career as referee was a natural one to take. I’ve had a long experience refereeing in women’s rugby and I think this next step in my career as a referee was a natural one to take,” she said.
“It’s great news that we can have the opportunity of refereeing the most important men’s competitions in Europe. And why shouldn’t we be dreaming of further opportunities?
“I could have never imagined reaching this level in refereeing. I’ve discovered an incredible world as referee.”
While the actual game between Finland and Norway might not live long in the memory, it was another important milestone for Nievas, and another first, in a career that has had many.
The start of a pathway
A joint recipient of the World Rugby Referee Award in 2016, a year which saw her referee the Rio 2016 Olympic Games women’s sevens gold medal match between Australia and New Zealand, Nievas is the perfect role model in the eyes of Finland’s Emmi Laine, one of her assistants in Helsinki.
“I met Alhambra the first time in 2013 in Amsterdam, and she is so friendly, a role model who a large group of both players and referees probably follow,” Laine said.
“As a referee she’s lovely towards the players and very fair.”
While delighted to have got as far as she has in the game, Nievas unselfishly hopes that other female officials will derive benefit from gender barriers breaking down.
“It’s possibly one of the most positive things about all this. Future generations will see refereeing as a career and girls will not be afraid of pursuing it. Refereeing is for people, just as sports are for people (regardless of gender). I wish all of this will help to get the profession of refereeing closer to girls.
"It must be the start of a real pathway for women's refereeing and for more and more women.”
Nievas is not the only female referee to take charge of a Rugby Europe match as former Ireland player Joy Neville refereed another Conference 2 North match involving Norway, this time against Denmark, in Oslo two weeks' later.
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