BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
AS her profile continues to grow on the continent and beyond after being assigned to officiate in Rugby Africa’s flagship tournaments for both men and women, top female rugby referee Precious Pazani has set her sights on becoming the first local referee to feature at the World Cup.
The 28-year-old, who has been a referee since 2014, has been on a steady rise on the continent since crossing over from basketball to rugby, where she played for Zimbabwe and then started refereeing.
“Obviously, I’m happy to be getting the recognition,” Pazani told The Sports Hub ahead of taking charge of a high-profile international friendly match between the SA Select Women and Spain Invitational XV yesterday.
“I was privileged to referee a Women’s World Cup qualifier recently when Kenya played Uganda in South Africa. I will take charge of the South Africa women’s international match against Spain, which will be my first time referring a match involving a European country.
“It’s really been an awesome experience officiating in different tournaments around the continent and it has always been part of my goals. I’m ticking the boxes as I go along. However, my ultimate goal is to officiate at the World Cup and being on the top officiating panel.”
Pazani’s journey to being one of the top female rugby referees on the continent was not as straightforward as she had initially set her sights on a basketball career.
After being introduced to the sport while at Admiral Tait Primary School, Pazani continued playing hoops after progressing to Roosevelt High School.
She made the Zimbabwe Under-18 team for the Afrobasket qualifiers and went on to play for top local league clubs such as Cameo, Vixens and Varsity Leopards in a career that spanned over a decade.
In 2009, Pazani was one of the several promising women’s basketball players who crossed the floor to rugby after being asked to come along and learn how to play rugby sevens.
It was there she showed an interest in more than just the playing aspects of the game after getting encouragement from the former national women’s rugby coach and fellow referee Abigail Kawonza.
She has since gone on to officiate in Rugby Africa’s flagship tournament, the Gold Cup, working the touchline in games featuring such continental heavyweights as Namibia and Kenya last year.
Recently, she was in the middle when the Sables played Uganda in the revived Victoria Cup at Harare Sports Club before also taking charge of the other match between Zambia and Uganda.
While she is now a regular feature on the African rugby circuit, it has not been easy for Pazani as she also has had to deal with gender stereotypes in a male-dominated sport.
“I just make sure I know my laws and get educated where I’m not sure. The more knowledge I have, the more confident I am and I won’t even consider which gender is dominating,” Pazani says.