A change of priorities for Alhambra Nievas

Nievas, 37,  was the first woman to officiate in a men's rugby union international.
Nievas, 37, was the first woman to officiate in a men's rugby union international. / FERMÍN RODRÍGUEZ
  • working mum

  • The retired referee, who discovered a passion for rugby at Malaga University, has become a mother and now works for World Rugby

It seems like only yesterday, but in fact two years have passed since 2018, when the woman who was recognised as World Rugby Referee of the Year in 2016 decided to put down her whistle.

Refereeing was a passion that Alhambra Nievas discovered quite late - already an adult - at the University of Malaga Sports Club, while studying Telecommunications Engineering.

Those years shaped her life and continue to do so, although nowadays she is no longer fighting on the frontline, but from within, to improve the present and future of rugby.

After travelling the globe to referee some of the most important championships (King's Cups, World Series, Olympic Games), Alhambra Nievas decided it was time to change her priorities in life.

One year later she fulfilled one of her biggest objectives in life with the birth of Ibon, her first child, who is 11 months old. She now enjoys a close family life with Ibon and her partner at their home in her native Granada.

"Becoming a mother was one of my priorities and I didn't want to put it off any longer because I am 37 now. Being involved in sport always poses challenges and you enter a maelstrom which is more complicated to deal with when you are a mother, so I decided that although I was still able to continue with my career, this was more important for me," she told SUR.

Unlike many others, she didn't mind the lockdown as it meant she didn't miss a single moment of Ibon's early months, and could even get ahead with her work.

Nievas has never given up her links with rugby; no sooner did she retire as a referee than she began a new post as World Rugby's Referee Development Manager. What does that position entail?

"There are a great many different tasks; I work with federations that do not have professional structures, trying to provide them with support, then I find people who have talent and good abilities, to help them develop and ensure that someone who has a talent can get to the top level," she explained.

All this, which at present she is doing from home, is usually combined with a great deal of travel.

"I also go to all the world rugby sevens tournaments and I'm part of the support staff for the referees, carrying out checks, analysing performance, so they get to competition level. And then I also carry out training, because I'm a World Rugby educator. I try to get more people interested in refereeing," she added.

One of her main priorities is trying to motivate women to discover that this is their sport and that, like her, if they work hard they can get to the very top.

"One of the priorities is for more women to become interested in refereeing, because there is a framework of equal opportunities for them to grow in the right environment so they can get to top level. Nowadays, as in all sports, there are more male players, referees, trainers, managers... but we are working so that all the girls realise that any sport is for anybody, no matter what gender they are," she said.

A return to the pitch?

Nievas is happily wrapped-up in her work and in motherhood, but she can't deny that she misses being on the pitch.

"Yes, I do miss it a great deal. Nothing compares with being out on the field, whether as a player or a referee, but right now I'm at a different stage of my personal and professional life. I'm not ruling out refereeing at a different level when things pick up again, maybe here in Andalucía at weekends, for a while," she said.

"I think that in the end we must give training the same importance, because when you're going out onto any pitch you always have to be prepared. I believe it is also a way of making people see that with love and effort, they can achieve their aims, and it is very nice to transmit all this from the place where I learned it myself, at home".