Royal Roads conflict studies give Victorian an edge in Olympic referee duties

The fitting combination of being in the master’s program for conflict resolution at Royal Roads University and refereeing rugby at the Olympics is not lost on Julianne Zussman of Victoria.

“Too easy,” she said with a chuckle.

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Zussman will be doing a lot of conflict resolution over the next few days as one of eight female referees chosen to officiate in the women’s sevens competition at the Tokyo Olympics.

“The Olympics are unique and transcend the sports world and I’m privileged to be part of it,” said Zussman.

As a former international player, Zussman brings a unique perspective to officiating. She played in three World Cups for Canada in XVs, making the all-star Dream Team in 2014, and made 44 appearances with 108 points scored. (XVs or fifteens is the regular version of the sport, while sevens is the newer, pared-down version.)

She also knows the game from the bench and is assistant coach of the University of Victoria Vikes women’s team.

“It gives me empathy for what the players are going through,” said Zussman, who also played for Canada in sevens.

“Being a former player, I can anticipate as a referee what will happen next on the field and that helps me be in a great position on the field.”

Positioning is one thing, conflict resolution another.

“There are a lot of emotions during a game among the players and it’s important to get across, as a referee, that any decision you make is not personal,” said Zussman.

Her journey to the Olympics has been short and sharp. It wasn’t until 2018 that the 34-year-old even began officiating.

“They told me to be a ‘fly on the wall’ official at the nationals that year, and at the end of it, they handed me a referee’s whistle,” she said.

She was noticed and quickly worked her way up, serving as assistant referee at the Canada Sevens in Langford in 2019, then head referee for the Caribbean championships, in Dubai on the World Series and in the championship game in Cape Town, she said

Zussman makes her Olympic debut at a difficult Games, with the heat and high humidity, no fans and the spectre of COVID hanging over it all.

“It’s definitely unusual and [is] testing everybody mentally,” she said. “But you have to adapt and deliver … to do the job you were sent to do.”

Zussman said she has no COVID health concerns about being in Tokyo.

She will not be able to officiate any games featuring the Langford-based world No. 3 Canadian team, which opened against Brazil on Wednesday.

Seventy-five Island or Island-based athletes are at the Tokyo Olympics, and Paralympics that will follow. Other Islanders on the Canadian team in Tokyo in coaching or support roles include:

• diving coach Tommy McLeod

• judo team leader Kraig Devlin

• UVic Vikes chiropractor Simon Pearson

• Vikes physiotherapist Sue Lott

• Canadian Sport Institute-Pacific’s Victoria campus physician Dr. Paddy McCluskey

• Institute physiologists Wendy Pethick, Gareth Sandford, Trent Stellingwerff

• Institute mental performance specialist Christie Gialloreto

• Institute strength and ­conditioning coach Zach Kalthof

• Canadian Olympic Committee’s Tokyo core mission staff member Ryan Brodie.

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