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Photo: Richard Huggard/Gallo Images

Being appointed the first woman on the National Rugby Panel is a big achievement.

But for Aimee Barrett-Theron, it’s also an opportunity to open doors for other female referees, by breaking gender barriers.

Having played women’s rugby for years, Barrett-Theron, 29, strives to give back to the game after reaping the rewards of global travel, and a bursary to study biokinetics.

On an average day, this Cape Town-based health practitioner sees patients, keeps fit, and watches rugby. Being a woman in a male-dominated sport is not easy, but she has managed to garner respect, and change attitudes while refereeing at a boys’ high school.

On the field, it’s a technical and tactical battle, banishing all perceptions of the sport as a game for hooligans.

Today, Barrett-Theron is regarded as a world-class referee. She was invited to referee at the 2016 Rio Olympics, a career highlight in a year that also saw her join the Women’s Sevens World Series panel.

Despite being on the big screen during matches, Barrett-Theron says she remains intrinsically shy. She credits the job for challenging her confidence and self-belief.

“No referee goes out onto the field to cause controversy, so we have to be emotionally strong and make sure we’re professional.”

“Live simply, love generously and learn constantly!”