Nicola flies the flag for Aussie refs in Greece

It’s not only our athletes who benefit from playing in international tournaments. Competitions, such as the FINA Junior World Championships, are a great opportunity for our officials to learn from their peers and referee different styles of play at the highest level.

Currently in Volos, Greece for the FINA Junior Women’s World Championships, Nicola is one of 20 technical delegates at the tournament, which runs from the 3-9 September. We sat down to chat with Nicola ahead of the tournament to find out more about her refereeing career.

Many of us know you as a coach for Mermaids and Stuartholme School but you also don the whites for National League, how did you get into refereeing?

“I started in the Brisbane Comp and then State Championships. From there I refereed the Junior Championships and was spotted by Les Key who said I had potential as a referee. He was my mentor who fast tracked me through the process and by 25 I was refereeing men’s national league.”

So from national league how did you get involved with international competitions?

“Through refereeing lot’s of men’s national league, the opportunity came up just after the Sydney Olympics to be appointed to the FINA panel. I was the first Australian female referee on the panel and still am the only Australian female referee on the panel. Every country can have up to seven FINA referees, who go through a process of being identified and evaluated at all their events. Once you’ve passed those you can then officiate at international competitions. I would say it’s taken 10 years to be recognised internationally after I had a really good Junior World Championships in 2007, which then led to more Senior appointments. My first Senior women’s appointment was 10 years ago and since then I’ve done lots of World League Super Finals.”

I would say it’s taken 10 years to be recognised internationally after I had a really good Junior World Championships in 2007, which then led to more Senior appointments. My first Senior women’s appointment was 10 years ago and since then I’ve done lots of World League Super Finals.”

It seems like the last couple of years have been stand out for you, do you think that is the case?

“I think the last year and a half have been the best for me refereeing wise. This year and last I was awarded the John White House medal for refereeing during the national league competition. Last year I refereed the Women’s World League Super Final between the USA and Spain, which was a replay of the Olympic Games. I was also in New Zealand, where I was awarded the Gold Medal match at the Junior World Championships. And this year has been pretty good, I’ve been to China for the World League Super Finals and obviously Greece for the Juniors with the Born 97 girls.”

You mentioned the Sydney Olympics, how special was it for you to be involved with a home Olympics?

“It was amazing, not only because what women went through to get to the Olympics but also being there and a part of the men’s and women’s games. I worked on the women’s Olympic Gold Medal game, I was the one doing the clock when that ball went. The refereed came to me and asked if the shot had left the hand before hooter went? I’m like, GASP, I’ll never forget it! I said, yes the shot had left the hand before we hit the button, so they called the goal over.”

How on earth did you keep your nerve?

“Usually they wouldn’t put an official on the game from the same country as any of the teams competing but I was very grateful. It was hard keeping calm because I knew so many of the girls involved, have played against the likes of Debbie Watson and coached some of the younger girls. Seeing them come through the Games and ultimately do the highest thing you can do, which was to represent their country and win, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.”

We are into a new Olympic cycle, with our athletes gearing up for Tokyo 2020, is your goal to be at the next Olympics?

“Of course! The aim is for the 2020 Olympics, hopefully, I will get to go to the 2018 World Cup and 2019 World Championships, which will lead to Tokyo. By 2019, I should have a pretty good idea if I’m on track to make it to Tokyo. Usually, the person who is appointed to the World Championships will go onto referee at the Olympics. With Danny retiring this year, the number one spot is open in Australia, so it really is anyone’s game.”

You touched on being the only Australian female referee on the FINA panel. Do you see yourself as a pioneer for other women referees?

“I never really thought about. I know that being a female in sport is really hard, especially at an international level. I would say in the last three years, I would go to international tournaments and no longer be the only female ref. This year we were really lucky, we had seven female refs out of 14 at the World League Super Finals. I don’t see myself as any different to the men because I can’t say “Oh, I’m the best female ref” because that’s irrelevant. It’s how am I in relation to all the other referees, so I can be appointed to the games that I want internationally.

It’s only when people like Ash in Sydney, Fiona from WA and Jacko in QLD came and spoke to me about what it means to be that only female that’s done that for Australia, it’s only when they raised it did I realise that it’s a great honour. But I don’t want to be the best female, I want to be the best referee in Australia.”

Finally, with so much experience under your belt, what advice do you have for anyone looking to get into refereeing?

“It’s a great thing to get into because you can still be a part of the game. I suppose you need to understand that the game is not about you, everything is about the players and you are there to support the game. I think the other thing they need to understand is that they need to be really open to feedback from more experienced referees. When I came through and even to this day, I will go to people that are more senior than me at an event and ask for feedback. If you’re not wanting to improve all the time then you won’t improve. For the ones that want to improve and are keen for that support, the support is there and the structures are in place but they have to be open to it.”

The FINA Junior Women’s World Championships are being live streamed via – catch Nicola in action throughout the tournament in Greece.