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Alhambra Nievas, one of the world's best rugby referees, hangs up her whistle

Alhambra Nievas.
Alhambra Nievas. / González Molero
  • The official, who only last week oversaw matches in the Rugby World Cup Sevens, says she "thought very hard" about the decision

Alhambra Nievas, named the best referee in the world in 2016, has decided to hang up her whistle after taking part in the Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament which concluded in San Francisco last week.

Nievas is only 34 years old but she has already spent the best part of a decade as a rugby referee - a period in which she has achieved practically everything in the sport: she was the first woman to referee a full men's international game, the first to oversee an Olympic final and the first to officiate in a European game.

Originally from Granada, Nievas, who started to play rugby in Malaga (for this reason she considers herself partly 'malagueña'), has become part of the furniture in the rugby world. However, she has now decided to call it a day.

Spain player Patricia García broke the news first with a tweet directed at Nievas, saying, "This isn't 'goodbye', but a 'see you later'. Our standout referee is retiring."

SUR contacted Alhambra Nievas on Saturday while she was on holiday in the United States and she confirmed her retirement: "The decision to retire is correct and I've thought very hard about it," she said, without going into any details about her future career. However, she has always maintained that she would want to stay involved in the sport in some way when she hung up her whistle.

Following her participation in the Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament, Nievas tweeted: "Everything has an ending. What a fabulous week we have just experienced!" - a week in which Spain's women's team finished in fifth place. "Thank you to everyone who has supported me. Now it's time to move on to new challenges," she concluded.

Nievas has, until now, dedicated her professional life to rugby (she is the only professional in Spain able to make a living refereeing). However, she also has a degree from Malaga University (UMA) in Telecommunications.

It was at UMA that she first discovered rugby, age 19, and was part of the university team for more than a decade, earning a call-up to the national team for the Six Nations in 2006. Now she is entering a new phase in her life having left behind a legacy which will be hard to match.