Believing that a better knowledge of rugby's laws would make her a better player, Nerea Livoni attended a refereeing course in 2014.
As then fly-half for Chancay Rugby Club, in San Luis, her hometown in Argentina, Livoni realised that understanding the law book would give her strategic advantages on the pitch.
“What motivated me to learn the laws was realising that they allowed me to be a better player. Those who don't know them don't really play at 100 per cent,” says Livoni, who has become one of the leading refereeing lights in South America. “Those who play with the laws, play better.”
Her early games as a referee were promising.
As a player she had a lot of fun, playing provincial and regional rugby. But her goals were not fulfilled.
“I wanted more out of rugby and I realised that refereeing was the conduit,” she says. “I put that ahead of my playing career. Took the opportunities I had and took advantage of them.”
As a referee, now 28-year-old Livoni managed to officiate at national, regional and international level. Her ascent was on an upward curve before COVID-19 arrived.
Livoni's ‘wow’ moment, when she realised that she was making it as a referee, was at Seven de la República 2018 when “I was told that I would be going to the Olympic Games Qualifier in Peru in 2019”.
Livoni the player quickly gave way to Livoni the referee in a year that was all about growth, finishing the season at the Dubai Sevens Invitational.
As she was preparing to travel to Stellenbosch in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic put paid to her plans.
Livoni was soon included in South America’s first Women’s Refereeing Panel, even if it meant working from a distance, as her country went into an almost seven-month-long lockdown.
“I kept my sanity training and watching as much rugby on television as I could.
“Last year, we worked with the UAR (Unión Argentina de Rugby) panel and trained with Joaquín Montes (Sudamérica Rugby) and Alhambra Nievas from World Rugby.
“Last Monday, we started a new round of training with Alhambra and Joaco, going through the law updates and modifications. It will be over four consecutive Mondays.”
In 2020, Livoni controlled the final of the only women’s competition in South America, the Valentín Martínez, which provided her with opportunities to continue growing.
“We managed to work on little things with the help of Joaquín, and we are hoping to continue developing technical stuff, such as my positioning,” she says, dreaming of a return and hoping there is an international future ahead of her.
Montes, Sudamérica Rugby’s Referee Manager, highlights Livoni’s “good focus on the game; she understanding and has empathy with the players, something that is crucial to continue growing”.
“Nerea has an international future. In 2020 she was going to have a number of opportunities; she is the region’s most experienced female referee.
Blazing a trail
Living in San Luis, at the foothills of the Andes, Livoni's boyfriend Gonzalo is a competitive trail and ultra-trail runner. Joining a running club gave Livoni the opportunity to stay fit while also being outside whenever it was possible.
“Physical activity allowed me to oxygenate my head.
“I miss rugby 120 per cent. The build up to a tournament, being on the field, after a tournament. You live, work and help players to be their best during games, and then getting feedback from my evaluator.
“I am very keen on refereeing, preparing for the next step in my career.
“I hope those phone calls and emails will come back; I stay fit in case they come.”
Women’s rugby in Argentina and the region is writing its own history every day, with each step a step forward. Refereeing in the region is in search of role models, of which Livoni is certainly one.
“We must make sure that people understand that referees also enjoy themselves.”
She adds: “We are all helping it [women's rugby] grow. The common goal is to develop and develop.”
Because of this, she is delighted with World Rugby’s new Team Powered campaign, which aims to inspire more women and girls to play and watch women’s rugby, the ultimate team sport – on and off the pitch.
“It [the Team Powered campaign] allows us to dream, making women’s rugby more visible as we grow the number of players.”