Nick Hodgers appointed as Referee for the 2024 Olympic Games

Published Mon 06 May 2024

Our Aussie teams won’t be the only Water Polo Australia representatives at the next Olympic Games, although you will be more likely to see Nick Hodgers standing poolside with a whistle in his mouth than in the water of the Olympic Aquatic Centre in Paris.

A referee on the World Aquatics list since 2005, Hodgers has been appointed as one of the 24 international officials who will referee matches of the water polo Olympic tournament next July and August in Paris.

“It is very exciting, and very unexpected as well,” humbly confessed Hodgers when asked to comment on his nomination. He added that the reality of his appointment hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

“I still quite can’t get my head around it, it is such a surprise.”

Part of the reason for his surprise is the fact that Hodgers is “at the top end of his age bracket, career-wise” and only a few years away from retirement. On the flipside, the appointment comes as a recognition of his refereeing experience and a craft that he has honed over a long career. 

Originally a competitive swimmer, Hodgers began playing water polo when he was about 11, moving on to refereeing when he was 15. 

“It really is a case of, I fell into it early and kept doing it.” he said. “I enjoyed it, I thought I could help and put something back into the sport.

“That’s it really, I only ever wanted to put back into the sport. Never really had aspirations of getting appointed to an Olympic Games!” he said.

Hodgers started refereeing at club level, before moving on to national competitions and eventually being appointed for the Australian Waterpolo League (or the National League, as it was known back in 2000), and the World Aquatics referees panel. 

“I have refereed at Junior and Youth World Championships, male and female. Also senior tournaments and intercontinental cups, but mostly junior water polo in recent years - that’s also why my nomination came as a surprise,” he explained.

In Paris, Hodgers will be reunited with some of the elite international referees with whom he shared the poolside over the years. The list includes Boris Margeta of Slovenia, whom he met during a visit to Australia and is arguably considered one of the best referees in the world.

“I think Paris will be his sixth Olympic Games!” Hodgers explained, adding that no doubt there will be time to catch up in the days before the event, when conferences and refereeing workshops will be organised to ensure everyone is on the same page. 

Between now and then, it won’t come as a surprise that Hodgers will have to train for the Games, just like the athletes in the pool.

“I might have to rearrange some things with work to make sure I’m able to attend the next Stingers camp,” he said. “Then both our men and women’s teams will travel overseas in June, so depending on what tournaments they’ll play, I have to try to get into those tournaments as well and get as much practice as I possibly can, even during the training sessions, whenever I can.”

Preparations aside, Hodgers reluctantly concedes that his presence in Paris could also become an inspiration for the next generations of Australian water polo referees.

“I guess it does make it a reality for them, it shows that it can happen,” he agreed. “It also shows that if you don’t make it as an athlete, if you have a mind for the game, then you can take a different pathway to get to the Games.

“But even if it doesn’t take the amount of training time the athletes put into it, [aspiring referees] need to understand that it takes a lot of time spent trying to hone things, taking feedback on board, seeking out advice and doing all the things you need to do to get to a stage where you can referee competently.”

Hodgers also highlighted some of the key strengths he thinks any aspiring referee should try to develop: having a thick skin, recognising the different roles played by coaches and athletes, and never stop learning because, in his words, “nobody knows everything”.

“You just have to remain calm, think on your feet, but most importantly, don’t take things personally.

“You’ll never get every single thing right. As a referee, there is always something you miss or could have done differently. The secret is listening to the feedback you get, and not just ignoring it, thinking that you know better,” he said.

If getting nominated for the Olympic Games may very well be the pinnacle of his refereeing career, Hodgers is also proud to have the opportunity to represent the Australian water polo community, and the referees who helped him along the way.  

“And of course I’d like to think that I helped some of them, too,” he added. “It’s a tight-knit community because of what we do. We might not necessarily get support from coaches and players all the time,” he said with a smile, “but the support from each other always makes up for that. We wouldn’t stick with it if we didn’t have the friendships and the relationships.”