Once in a lifetime experience in Rio

Rose LaBreche refereed rugby sevens at Olympics

Rose LaBreche, the only Canadian referee at Rio.
Rose LaBreche, the only Canadian referee at Rio.
Supplied by Rugby Canada

It’s often believed that one of the many roles of coaches is to help inspire athletes.

Due to concussions and shoulder surgery, Rose LaBreche was forced to retire from rugby in 2010 while at Queen’s. With her time as a student athlete over, women’s rugby head coach Beth Barz suggested that to stay involved LaBreche should take refereeing courses. 

Fast forward six years and LaBreche, ArtSci ’10, held the prestigious honour of being the sole Canadian Sevens match official — male or female — at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

From August 6 to 8, LaBreche served as the head match official for Colombia vs. Fiji and Colombia vs. Kenya — assisting on the sidelines for the other games.

“It was really cool to see a bunch of different athletes come together for such a prestigious event and see all of their hard work culminate in their performance,” LaBreche said.

Like people who pick up a sport for the first time, LaBreche had to climb up the refereeing ranks to prove herself. Starting out with refereeing high school tournaments and games, LaBreche progressed through the ranks, becoming one of 12 members on Rugby Canada’s national panel of referees in January 2013. 

In 2015, she was awarded Rugby Canada’s Official of the Year.

From there, she was sent to international tournaments to be scouted, ending up a part of the international Sevens panel in August of 2015. 

Since then, she has refereed for the World Rugby Women’s Seven Series, traveling to Dubai, Sao Paulo and Langford — all working for the Federal Government in Ottawa.

It was at the Dubai Sevens tournament in December 2015 that LaBreche found out that she would  referee the first Rugby Sevens Olympic event in 92 years. She described it as an overwhelming feeling.

“It has been years of hard work and years of personal sacrifice and to have this be something that I look back on as the pinnacle of my career.”

The nervousness and pre-match jitters of being on the international stage left once she hit the field.

“Once you’re out there, you’re not really focusing on the external environmental factors, but it’s just pre-game while you are at the hotel or a couple of days before you’re like ‘oh my goodness, this is the world stage.’”

During her down time, LaBreche used these moments to soak in the whole event, watching other sporting events and visiting landmarks in Rio.

During the Olympics, LaBreche and the other judges, referees and technical officials stayed at a military base outside the Olympic village.

For LaBreche, some of her fondest memories will be hanging out with the other rugby officials. 

“Even though being a referee is looked at as being an individual job [we were] very much a team.”

One of the highlights for Canadians at the Olympics was the strong showing by female athletes. At Rio, women won 16 of Canada’s 22 medals. Swimmer Penny Olesiak became a national icon and women’s rugby’s bronze medal performance will not be soon forgotten.

LaBreche believes that her time at Rio will help to inspire young women back home.

“I think that Rugby Canada and Rugby Ontario did a good job of putting my success forward and from that a lot of young women and people in general were inspired to take up refereeing.”

For someone who never thought going to the Olympics was a possibility, LaBreche has cherished the opportunity to be a referee.

“It has taken me to heights and places that playing never could have,” LaBreche said. 

“It’s such a good opportunity to see the world and to also meet a lot of different people that come from different backgrounds, and it also puts you in a lot of interesting and potentially difficult situations.”

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