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Former Zimbabwe Sables player Rumbidzai Chabveka is a referee on the rise

After hanging up her rugby boots, former Harare Sports Club and National Sables player, Rumbidzai Chabveka, is relishing her new role as a Zimbabwe Rugby Union National Panel referee.

Born on 11 December 1986 – Rumbie, as she is affectionately known in rugby circles – has always loved sports and she played most sporting codes offered at her school excluding rugby. This included netball, hockey, volleyball and athletics. Rugby, however, later became her “happy place”.

“I was mentored in Rugby at the Harare Sports Club, it felt like family I loved,” said Chabveka, who played club rugby for the Harare Sports Club for a decade, and also served as the Ladies captain.

“During this time, the rugby field became my happy place and I treasure the moments and friendships I made with my teammates and opponents.

“The training and playing regime at Harare Sorts club taught me several life lessons that only rugby can teach – friendship, solidarity, integrity, respect and passion. These are lessons I have used in my everyday life.

“After a decade of playing I was invited to the referees society by Nsikelelo Sibanda, who is a seasoned referee.

“I started refereeing in 2016 as I realized I could not be a player forever, and the only way I could still be on the field is if I became a referee.

“At first, I wasn’t so serious about refereeing, but Nsikelelo Sibanda always made sure I attended meetings.

“At my first meeting we had to write a law exam, and I almost never returned. But then I met Walter Njowa, who reassured me. Walter would always tell me that I had to take it one day at a time and not rush it.

“Abigail Kawonza is another story – she wouldn’t take no for answer when I made excuses not to join the referees meetings, since I was still juggling refereeing and playing.

“In 2017 refereeing became the ultimate winner – a decision l do not regret to this day. Abigail Kawonza had been my coach as a player, and she became my mentor as a rugby referee and has supported my rugby refereeing journey.

“I also have been secretary for the Mashonaland rugby referees society for the past 4 years. It hasn’t been easy, as I have to balance between being an administrator and referee.”

Chabveka added: “I have officiated at the Dairibord Schools Rugby Festival, schools and club leagues. My biggest game, however, was the Zimbabwe U20 vs SA U20 girls match in 2019.

“This was a learning curve for me as it was my first international game, although every game and tournament has its lessons.

“In January 2020, I was part of the group that went to Mpumalanga for high performance training.

“Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic changed all the plans we had, and we had to shut down for a while, which meant no games nor training.

“Life had to go on and I started to do home physical training in the hope that the pandemic would end as fast as it came.

“Unfortunately it did not, and it still has not, but I am hopeful that it will end soon and we will get back to what we love most.”

Chabveka also participated in Zoom meetings with referees from Africa in 2020 where they discussed and learned more about the Laws of the game.

“My journey as a referee hasn’t been all rosy, but the support structure has been superb,” she said. “Those who have walked this journey before us always make sure that we are on the right path and the individual will be the only limiting factor. All it takes is a bit of patience.”

Commenting on her refereeing highlight, Chabveka said: “My best memory as a referee was when I got my first trophy as the upcoming female referee in 2016. It ignited something in me and that was only the beginning.

“The Rugby Africa panel is where my eyes are set right now.

“The support I got as a player and as a budding referee has been nothing short of amazing, and the support structures within the rugby community are fantastic, especially with role models who are still part of the community who urge us on.

“We have role models like Abigail Kawonza, Abigail Mnikwa, Nothando Ndlovu, Octavia Chikukura and many others. Surely with such support structures the sky is the limit for Zimbabwean women in rugby.”