31 May 2024

Olympic dream to be fulfilled for Nikky White

Every worthwhile journey has its highs and lows. For International Referee (IR), Nichola (Nikky) White, the path to being appointed a referee for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games has been as long and costly as it has been rewarding.

Any referee who gains this incredible accolade has made sacrifices in the pursuit of professional development and ongoing training. As a young female from Tasmania, White has navigated more obstacles than most in pursuit of her dreams.

Encouraged by her family’s involvement in Taekwondo, and especially inspired by her older sister who had started competing in Kyorugi, White first got involved in the martial art when she was six years old. She quickly gravitated towards Poomsae competition, but found her true calling when she took up refereeing as a teenager. 

From the beginning, White poured her heart and soul into becoming the best Taekwondo referee possible. But she’s also the first to acknowledge that she hasn’t done it alone.

“The Referee Chair in Tasmania at the time, Ray Jones, was a very knowledgeable International Referee and a wonderful teacher,” White recalls.

“While courses are important to allow time to learn rules and applications there really is no substitute for real world experience, which for a referee means time on the mat. When I first started refereeing I was living down in Tasmania which as you can imagine doesn’t hold that many competitions due to its small population size. This meant for competition experience I was travelling to Victoria several times a year, and then around the country as I started getting invited to national events.”

Becoming an International Referee

To attain IR accreditation, White had to attend and pass World Taekwondo’s in-depth multi-day seminars. After that, like all referees, she also attends international refresher courses every few years to continue refereeing at international events. 

“Unfortunately, Australia does not host these courses very often which increases the travel time and cost to stay up to date as an International Referee,” she says.

“Every competition promoted by World Taekwondo has training days which are a good mix of theory to go over and reiterate the latest rule updates with video examples to illustrate the practical applications. Referees also discuss real world scenarios and gain instruction on how best to handle each situation in accordance with the rules, and practical mat training to standardise hand signals and allow us to put everything together under the guidance of the World Taekwondo Referee Chair.”

Soon after becoming an IR in 2017, White was trying to get as much competition experience as possible to improve and develop her knowledge and skills. She started travelling to Queensland club/state events on top of Victorian competitions and any national events she could. 

“During this time I am eternally grateful to be able to say I was mentored, supported, and encouraged by many of our senior Australian referees who I still have really close friendships with,” she says. 

In 2019, White was invited to attend the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games International Referee Selection and Training Camp. While on that occasion she didn’t make the shortlist, the opportunity to experience this competitive environment at international level was highly valuable. Since then she has officiated at two Cadet World Championships, a Junior World Championships, two World Championships, one Para World Championship, five Grand Prixs, and a Grand Prix Final amongst other World Taekwondo recognised events.

Olympic dream to become reality

Her passion for officiating is now set to take White to the grandest stage in sport. When the Olympic Taekwondo competition gets underway in Paris from 7 August, White will be in the thick of the action, applying her comprehensive knowledge base – developed over years of dedication to the craft – to uphold the rules and make the Australian Taekwondo community proud.

Having set her sights on the 2024 Paris Olympics back in 2019, White feels a deep sense of satisfaction at achieving her goal.

“I don’t think I stopped smiling for at least a week after reading my appointment letter. Paris is shaping up to be a very special Olympics. The venue for Taekwondo, the Grand Palais, has got to be one of the most incredible venues, certainly very different from our regular sports stadiums. I feel so privileged that I’ll be there with 25 of the best referees in the world alongside the best athletes,” she says.

“If the qualification tournaments are anything to go by we’re in for some very intense competition. I’m sure under the leadership and guidance of Technical Delegate Mohamed Shaaban and Referee Chair Songchul Kim, along with the rest of the World Taekwondo and Paris 2024 personnel it will be a successful and enjoyable event.”

A world of opportunity

Australian Taekwondo and World Taekwondo can take their share of credit for her personal success, and the success of other female referees, according to White.

“It's fantastic to see in Australia now we have a large contingent of up-and-coming women of all ages across all our states, it’s certainly a very different landscape from when I started out back in the mid 2000s,” she says.

“World Taekwondo’s push for gender parity in referees opened up several pathways including being able to attain my IR accreditation before grading to 4th Dan. Without this opportunity and World Taekwondo working to encourage and provide opportunity for greater diversity it would have taken me many more years to become an IR and reach the level I have.”

Beyond the competition, White is amazed by the wider opportunities that come with refereeing Taekwondo at the highest level. 

“There is something very special about being a World Taekwondo referee, it really is like being part of a giant international family,” she says. “Over the last seven years I’ve travelled to 20-plus countries, and met, worked with, and forged friendships with so many people from all over the world.”

A new perspective

Never one to be idle, White has also previously been part of the National Kyorugi Referee Committee. During this time she played an important role in assisting Australian Taekwondo to build out its online referee education and training courses.

“Redesigning an educational structure gives you a whole new perspective on knowledge progression and how different people learn and digest information. Being able to revamp Australian Referee education was an invaluable and fascinating experience where I really got to delve into the inconsistencies in rule interpretation and course delivery happening across the country and see how that reflected in the officiating in different events from state to state, and how that compared to my experience from international events,” she says. 

“Thinking about what to teach and how, also forces you to assess your own knowledge to ensure you’re providing the most complete and up to date picture. The process really helped me question and solidify my own understanding of some of the complexities of the competition rules.”

While she has stepped back from that role to focus on her own refereeing and the Olympic selection process over the last 18 months, White can see the benefits of the changes in the next generation of referees now moving through the national levels.

“I wouldn’t be refereeing at the level I am today without the input and support of so many referees not only in Australia but around the world. My hope is to help make the next generation of Aussie referees the best that they can be,” she says.

When White referees the best of the best in Paris, that next generation will surely be inspired. 

In collaboration with State Taekwondo Associations, several referee courses are held annually. These courses are listed on the National Events Calendar. If you're interested in becoming a referee or learning more, please contact the relevant Referee Committee for further information.

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