AVI'I FA'ALUPEGA MAGELE
What made you want to be a referee?
First of all cause I love rugby. It’s like a family culture. Ever since when I was young … it’s very funny cause my Dad use to play rugby and I had two older brothers. So when I was in primary school and my two older brothers were in colleges, so that was like Super Rugby before I mean Super 12, before Super Rugby as we call it right now. So back in days, when not every family in the villages had tv. So our family got one, got lucky enough to get one. So we had that culture where we compete, like me and my mother and my other brothers we compete, we watch the games and we had that culture watching Super 12 rugby and compare who’s gonna win.
So that’s where actually where it built up my passion in rugby, I didn’t see that much about women’s rugby during that time. But the passion that I saw from my Dad and my brothers and even the whole family. Boys really first made to grow in a different career. So I never thought of being a referee, only thought of becoming a superstar in rugby. But I never liked women’s rugby back in those days when I was strong, when I was a kid, I wasn’t really strong, it was we never recognize it. So I remember when I finished school, primary school and I came to Upolu cause actually I’m from Savai’i. I was looking forward to play rugby but after 4 years of college, I never play rugby cause there was no such thing as rugby for school girls. That was 2006 and 2004. 2005 that was my first day in Uni and then I heard that there was rugby in high school, and I thought maybe might be bad luck for me, maybe there’s something else that heavenly father wanted me to go to. So I finish high school and then I was a teacher for 5 years. So I was teaching in one of the colleges, I went back to Savai’i and taught there.
My Dad told me one day, you know what I was trying to convince your brother and they never wanna be referee cause my Dad is a referee. So I ask him, so what do you want me to do. My Dad wanted me to be a referee, I saw you’re a teacher it’s gonna be easy for the kids to listen to you when you referee on the field, so I give it a try. It’s all for sake of my Dad, he was looking up to me and so I was okay I’ll do it for my Dad, just do it for him. So in 2008 that was my first year of teaching and I was involved with the kids playing and that was the first year also that my Dad wanted me to assist in refereeing in one of the senior A games. I was like no way I can’t do that, I was kind of shy and noo, people are gonna look at me, that’s a girl, that’s a woman, it’s the first time they see someone running around the sideline. But I think my Dad know best in me, he just put me on and say, you go for it. So on that very first day and I thought okay I’ll go for it. Basically it’s all family culture, that passion in me to start something new, something else, even though I never thought of it when I was young, but I grew up with it and our parents know what’s best for us, maybe that’s basically what my Dad wanted me to do.
You were recently selected to officiate the main game of the Samoa Invest Lakapi Championship on between Apolima and Savaii. How did that go and what are some of the challenges you've found being a woman officiating mens games?
My goal was to stay focused and use the opportunity to be a great leader for both teams. I'm grateful for another milestone to achieve but more importantly is the opportunity to take charge of the mens game at this level for the first time. Of course I expected the negativity al because of being a woman in the middle, but I had faith that I was well prepared. I've being working really hard for this opportunity 4 months prior to the championship. I'm proud of myself and for those who are behind this, my family, friends and other colleagues. I enjoyed the game and I'm looking forward for more opportunities like this in the future, so there is more gametime for me to experience so I can assist the players to play at their best as well. I had a lot of positive feedback afterward and that's bonus. I'm grateful for such a humble experience for me and all credit to our Heavenly Father.
A woman taking charge of course is always the issue from other people's perspective., especially in the island. I can only hope for a better change for our young generation to step up and live their dreams.
Core values of rugby has taught me a lot not only as a referee but in my life as well. (Discipline, Respect, Integrity, Passion, Solidarity). It teaches me how to respect and take ownership of my actions and how I admit to my mistakes and be humble to earn the respect from players and coaches as well. I hope that, what I'm doing will help get more girls in the arena. Right now there are 5 other female referees and I am super excited to see them grow and represent them well on the field.
What would you say to other young women who are interested in pursuing this?
I challenge young women, to try it. Work hard and run the extra mile to prove yourself and other people that you can do it too.
In 2016 that was my first ever international appointment. I got selected by the Oceania Match Officials to go and referee the 7’s in Oceania, in Fiji for Australian 7’s. It was a huge experience for me because I never thought that I could be, that I would ever be there. I never imagined myself running on that field with New Zealand and Australian teams, which is pretty big women teams. So when I came back and I thought man why can’t I do it, this is door for me and I just want to open this door to all other young girls. I know the feeling that these young girls here in Samoa, it’s the same one I felt ever since when I first started in this career, not trusting myself, putting myself down, then thinking of the mentality of other people and then I thought that’s what people think of me. But you got to challenge yourself and just get there, go on the field and do what you love to do.
It’s a total different community when I ref here and ref out of Samoa. So I think now is a massive opportunity for me to share about the work that this refereeing, these boys are doing for the country here in Samoa. They never throw if the spectators doesn’t support them, even the coaches and the players. So I deliver that huge presentation to social media and that’s when we see game changes which is really good.
Right now we have some really good young girls, they're doing classes and learning about the game and that’s a good thing. The same thing that I went through, I can feel what they’re feeling right now. Because ever since when they came in, they feel shy. I work for Samoa Rugby Union so some of the times we do competitions for young kids, so I bring these young girls to come in and I say you’re gonna referee this game. I can feel how they feel, I can see because the parents, the parents are the worse spectators here in Samoa. They feel for their kids, they always want their kids to be winners so that’s why it’s a big challenge for these young girls right now. For me, I know that the biggest impact of social media is to deliver the message to these young girls to grow. I don’t want those girls to come the same way that I did.
But you carved the pathway, wow, amazing! What’s your ultimate goal? Where do you want to be refereeing?
For any referee it’s the World Series, the World 7 Series. I’m still working on it. We have some Match Officials panel in Oceania 7’s that’s coming over to Samoa and asses us and talk through some of the things that they want us to improve on. Sometimes you’re happy with the training, sometimes you’re slacking, and that’s the biggest challenge for me right now is my speaking voice. So that’s the biggest challenge.