Emilia Aratanha and a wheelchair rugby referee's dream

Brazilian falls in love with the sport and plans to officiate at Tokyo 2020

Female referee poses Emilia Aratanha was inspired to referee wheelchair rugby after watching the sport at Rio 2016 © • Emilia Aratanha

Sports never appealed to Emilia Aratanha. But that changed after she attended the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

After watching a number of sports, including wheelchair rugby, Aratanha is now training to become referee. Her aim is to officiate the sport at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

The Brazilian teacher and researcher’s only involvement with sport was mandatory gym classes at school.

“I knew Paralympic sports were a thing, but they seemed too far out of my reality to know more about them,” Aratanha said.

“I was on YouTube one day when I came across the ‘Murderball’ documentary.

“As a child, the only sport I have ever enjoyed playing was rugby, I loved the intensity of it.

“Watching the trailer, I thought it was so cool, but I never thought it existed in Brazil.

“When we had the Olympics here, I wasn’t that interested until I realised that it meant we were going to have the Paralympics here as well.”

After making contact with a Brazilian wheelchair rugby player in Sao Paulo through a mutual friend, Aratanha met some of the national team and learnt more about the game.

Before she knew it, she was hooked.

“I ended up buying tickets to almost all the games,” Aratanha said.

“When I got there, I couldn’t contain myself.

“I spent the game screaming and cheering. I have never been that excited about a game in my life.

“I don’t know why but it touched me somehow.

“I got to meet a lot of people involved and I ended up enjoying the game and the community.”

Following the Games, she sought a way to remain connected with the sport.

Information was scarce, until she discovered an advertisement for wheelchair rugby referees on Facebook.

“I never had done anything like that before but being a huge nerd, I liked the idea of understanding things in-depth,” Aratanha said.

“I drove over six hours to get to course, it was in Rio.

“I felt like a fish out of water, everyone had a connection to sports or health-related fields, but I was determined.

“I took the course in November 2016 and in February 2017, I refereed my first game.

“A couple of months later I went to the city of Bebedouro for a championship, that’s when I had my exam to become an official referee.

“Because of a lot of problems, regarding my work hours and my mum getting sick, I wasn’t able to be in court as much as I wanted to.

“This year I changed my job, my mom is way better, so I decided it was time to come back.

“I still have a long way to go, a lot of tests to pass and a lot of time to get to the necessary level, but I admit that my goal is Tokyo 2020.

“I’ve been training to improve my endurance and studying as much as I can, so when I finally get time to be on court, I’ll be ready.”