With most countries across the continent in some form of lockdown, the growth of women’s rugby in South America has been slowed by COVID-19 – but not stopped. Sudamérica Rugby continues to work and has named its first official Women’s Referee Panel, with 12 representatives from six countries.

Brazil has four representatives, including Natasha Olsen and Cristina Futuro, who featured in the first international competition played in the region in 2004. Argentina has three, Chile two, and Uruguay, Paraguay and Colombia one each.

With no competition in the near future, the panel will meet remotely with Joaquín Montes, Referee Development Manager for Sudamérica Rugby, who will work with Alhambra Nievas, World Rugby’s Referee Talent Development Manager.

“We’d been discussing about selecting this panel with Alhambra for a couple of months and being able to name it is very important for the region,” says former test referee Montes.

With sevens rugby dominating the scene in the region, initial focus will be placed on the shorter game, with 15s rugby coming at a later stage.

“As we wait for competition to resume, we will work with the panel to ensure they are as fit as they can be in every aspect of refereeing, and ready for the day,” adds Montes.

“This team combines experience and human qualities that will have an added value.”

Young blood

Among the young referees involved, Nerea Livoni is rapt about joining this group. A winger and goal-kicker, when she was made captain of her team, Chancay Rugby Club, in San Luis, central Argentina, she took an interest in the laws of the game.

“I realised that it would give me an edge and it would give my team an advantage, like knowing what to do in given circumstances,” she says of why she took the refereeing course, encouraged by her coach Martín Chada. 

“I had no inclination in being a referee, but I still completed the course.”

But fate is a funny thing. After finishing a game as a player, the referee for a boys’ U15s game that was to be played on the same field had gone missing. Someone knew she was a qualified referee. A whistle was found and the rest is history.

“I truly believe that knowing the laws is crucial for a player, it is an added bonus,” she says.

At 27, with only five years in the game – the first couple as player, the next two as player and referee – and since focused solely on refereeing, Livoni has already been selected as touch and in-goal judge at the Youth Olympic Games, and refereed at the 2019 Pan American Games. She was to referee in Stellenbosch, South Africa, in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series women's event that was due to take place in March to determine the core team for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2021.

Quickly establishing herself as a regular in national and regional women’s competitions, her ambitions were to go to the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series next year. Of course, circumstances have changed and everybody's plans are somewhat on hold. But the vision remains the same.

“I’ve already worked with Alhambra, who must have seen my potential. She certainly helped me grow in my career. Being part of this South American panel is huge, something that will certainly make us better referees.”

In the meantime, Livoni continues to study English and to analyse as much rugby as she can, with no physical activity allowed other than whatever she can do in the confines of her house.

“My partner runs ultra marathons … I still beat him in short distances,” she jokes.

Sudamérica Rugby's Women's Panel:

Nerea Livoni (Argentina)
Nadia Ferenz (Argentina)
Brenda Camacho (Argentina)
Amanda Macedonio (Brazil)
Gabriela Graf (Brazil)
Natasha Olsen (Brazil)
Cristina Futuro (Brazil)
Pierina Laguna (Chile)
Paola Bolvaran (Chile)
Laura García (Colombia)
Dalia Pereira (Paraguay)

Camila Cabrera (Uruguay)