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World’s first deaf ref

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In Christchurch, New Zealand, a very dedicated rugby enthusiast named Rodney Roberts is making sports history as Canterbury’s first Deaf rugby referee.

Having loved rugby since he was four years old, Rodney not only plays the sport but also coaches his daughter Olivia’s junior team, the Linwood Year Four Junior Bulls. What’s unique about his coaching is that he uses sign language to communicate, and Olivia helps by translating his instructions for her teammates.

Rodney has recently added refereeing to his list of roles in rugby. Over the last 18 months, he became a referee, and it is believed he is the first Deaf person in Canterbury to do this job. Rodney referees senior men’s games, where he introduces players to the basic signs and gestures he will use during the match. This approach helps everyone on the field adapt to his unique way of officiating the game.

Tony Smail, the chief executive of Canterbury Rugby, highlighted their support for Rodney by providing an interpreter for him during referee training sessions. This year, Rodney began refereeing on the field, or the “paddock” as it’s called in rugby.

Despite the challenges of not being able to hear the players and needing to be extra observant, Rodney has received positive feedback for his clear communication and dedication. Some players noted the learning opportunity his presence provides, helping them to embrace every aspect of the game.

Rodney is committed to his role and plans to continue refereeing, saying, “I’m not going to give up… I’m determined, so I’m going to carry on and get on with it because I enjoy it.” His story is an inspiring example of overcoming challenges and contributing to the community in a meaningful way.

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