Kazbegi Junior Rugby Team, a Real Proof that Nothing is Impossible
“I can strongly state that the support from European Union and People in Need is one of the most important commitments that we received during our 4 years of existence,” Gocha Chqareuli, the coach of the junior rugby team “Kazbegi”.
The Great Caucasus Mountains in the Kazbegi region along the north central border of Georgia are well known for their beautiful, breathtaking mountainous peaks. They are spectacular. Not only are the mountains sky high in this part of the world, they are also symbols of what one must overcome in order to be successful. Just ask the coach of the Kazbegi junior rugby team.
“We used to train with a football ball because we could not afford a proper rugby ball. In spite of this, over the course of one and half years, we managed to win 15 tournaments. We played 45 matches with a record of 43 victories and 2 draws. As a result, “Kazbegi” was nominated as the best team in Eastern Georgia,” says Gocha Chqareuli, the coach of the “Kazbegi” team.
Kazbegi has always been rich with many talented young people, but the region for a long time lacked sports clubs. As a result, young people had no opportunity to realize their sports talents and potential.
Gocha Chqareuli played many memorable matches for a number of years at the highest levels in the professional Georgian Rugby league. After his professional playing career ended, he returned to his native Kazbegi region. In 2013, he started thinking of ways to change the current situation and make an impact in the region. He decided to establish a junior rugby team in Kazbegi.
“Over the years, I could see a lot of talented youth who had great potential to become good players. What they lacked was an opportunity to realize their potential. Sport does many good things for the individual and their community – pride and self-esteem among them. Rugby players need physical and moral strength as well as creative thinking which Kazbegi youth have in abundance. These factors pushed me to establish a rugby club,” enthusiastically says Gocha.
To build a team Gocha started visiting Stepantsminda and nearby village schools. As a result, the rugby team “Kazbegi Avalanche” was established which one-year later changed its name to “Kazbegi”. From the beginning, the team consisted of 12 youth aged between 12 to 17. Soon, the popularity of rugby and the club grew and the team expanded with new players. Currently, the team includes 44 youth. Youth with very limited or no rugby playing experience soon got used to the game and enjoyed it very much. Inadequate infrastructure and the lack of modern sports equipment did not affect their enthusiasm and determination to train and succeed.
Challenges on the way to success
There is no success without challenges and “Kazbegi” had to cope with many problems and challenges throughout the four years of its existence. As example, there was no indoor facility for winter training and even drinking water.
“In the beginning, it was very difficult. We needed a gym and basic sports facilities to train. The local self-government was supporting us as much as they could but it was not enough. During the wintertime, we had to train outside or in a cold gym. Keeping athletes hydrated is important and we were without drinking water because the water system malfunctioned in the gym. Unfortunately, this is still the case. Team members brought water in bottles but they froze during the winter training sessions so they are forced to adapt to training without water. This is an unhealthy condition for all humans, and especially athletes who are training,” says Gocha.
Appropriate gym and water problems are not the least of the challenges the club has. Three years ago, the local self-government donated a mini bus to the club. Recently it broke down and is not working properly as the years of exploitation in the mountainous region took a heavy toll on it.
“Transportation poses significant problems for our club. We play in the junior league, which means that we have matches in different cities around Georgia. Because we do not have a vehicle, we are forced to rent a vehicle. This is an additional expense which is not within our capacity. On many occasions, the transportation problem forced us to miss junior league games in different cities.” says Gocha.
Besides intercity transportation, the club has faces the challenge of transporting players to the gym and then taking them back home.
“Every training day begins at 5 pm. I am traveling to Kazbegi villages and bringing players to the gym. Transportation is a region-wide problem and it is quite difficult for young players to come to the gym by themselves. So, bringing them with our own resources and then safely taking them back to their homes is the only way to keep the team alive,” says Gocha.
All of these problems are quite acute. However, what was posing the biggest problem to the club and its young players was the lack of a scrum machine. This is most important for rugby training and essential for the players’ safety, as training without scrum machine entails high risk of damaging the player’s backbone.
In spite of all these challenges, the Kazbegi junior rugby team has been very successful. As a result of the team’s successes, the “Kazbegi” team received an invitation from France to play in a prestigious junior rugby tournament in Monaco in the summer of 2017. This is not their only recent success. Two members of the Kazbegi team were nominated for the U18 Georgia national rugby team and three were recruited by Georgian national rugby league teams. All of these successes are attributable to the tireless efforts of coach Gocha and the youth who trained with him.
The local government was stretched to the limits to support the team but they cannot solve all the problems alone.
In 2015, People in Need launched a European Union funded project “Local Action Group Kazbegi”. The main goal of the project is to identify the most serious problems of the municipality and take actions towards solutions. Under the project, a local action group (LAG), consisting of Kazbegi local population, was formed. They visited all the villages in Kazbegi to meet the local residents and identify the most important problems of the municipality. As a result of these meetings, the Kazbegi development strategy was developed which listed support of sport development in the municipality as one of the priorities. The rugby team “Kazbegi” applied for funding and was awarded with a scrum machine and other necessary sports equipment.
“It was like a dream when People in Need informed us that they financed the purchase of scrum machine for us. I can strongly state that the support from European Union and People in Need is one of the most important commitments that we received during our 4 years of existence. With this support, we will be able to develop our game tactics and individual technics of players. What is most important is that the players’ health and well-being will no longer be under a threat. This support is important not just for us, but also for the Kazbegi region, as “Kazbegi” is not just a rugby team but it is the source of great pride of people in the region of Kazbegi. People in the region wholeheartedly support the team in all their matches and celebrate the victories as if each was a personally a member of the team.”
The European Union and People in Need’s support was followed by other positive changes for the team. Large energy companies like Darial Hess and Qelas expressed their interest in supporting the team. Starting in 2017, these two companies sponsor the team and guarantee the financial stability of “Kazbegi”.
With the success of the rugby team since 2014, Gocha is currently considered to be among best rugby coaches in Georgia. As an inspirational coach, Gocha remains modest and spreads the recognition of the team’s success more on the players than on himself.
“In spite of the problems, we have never given up, because we believed in what we were doing and that it was possible to establish a really competitive team in Kazbegi. Now, this mission is accomplished. We believe that with the support from European Union, People in Need, Local Government and sponsors we can achieve even more.”
“As for People in Need’s valuable support, we have already informed our sponsors what People in Need did for us and have asked them for permission to wear the People in Need logo on our shirt as a symbol of our gratitude towards this organization for the great support they provided in the most crucial time for us,” concluded Gocha.
Author: Ramaz Chichinadze