Salome Sagharadze, 22, Tbilisi

„I’ve loved playing with a ball since I was a child. I used to be physically active. While other girls fancied bays, I fancied a ball.

My dad influenced my love for sports. I played football since I was nine. In Khobi, before there was a team, my dad trained me. When I started to play, my neighbors would wonder: “She’s a girl, why do you make her do it?!” But I did not care about other people’s opinion as long as my parents were supporting me. It’s still like that. All of my family is beside me. The fact that I follow sports since childhood has resulted in my sister and brother becoming athletes too. My sister is a footballer, but I’m trying to convert her to rugby. My brother is a wrestler. He is my biggest supporter.

After a while, I moved to Tbilisi and started playing football in an under-17 team. Once a team mate told me there was a women’s rugby team so we went to watch them play. I fell in love with this sport, and liked the situation so much that I started training in rugby. In a week’s time I’d made up my mind to remain in this sport. However, I have not totally abandoned football. Sometimes I join the team Guria to play in the Georgian championship.
I have been playing in the rugby Women’s Sevens national team. My uniform number is 9, but sometimes I may play as number 12, and when we are in trouble, I may be positioned in a scrum.

Two years ago, we placed fourth in Rugby Europe Championship, which was a tremendous achievement for us. The whole team was crying with happiness. After the championship there were many shuffles in the team, we had sustained many traumas, a new generation of players was added and we are currently playing in division B, trying move up to division A again. The teams playing in B division are weaker than those in division A. That is why, our goal is to move to division A and then land on Super 12. We have potential for this. Today, more girls play rugby than five years ago, when I started to play.

Some of the girls from our team train to become rugby referees. We are still learning but sometimes we are made to referee so that we can practice. I must admit that we have never received negative attitude from players for being women, quite the opposite, they are very cooperative, addressing me with “Madam Referee”. On the contrary, sometimes I get embarrassed when 6 feet tall men call me Madam Referee. I started refereeing with younger teams so I have grown accustomed to it to some extent. However, I don’t see myself doing it all the time. When I retire from sports, I may abruptly change the course of my life even though I love sports very much.

Rugby is a rather difficult type of sport. We need to train nonstop, but we are so eager and so determined that our coach tells us we can do better than men. I have never thought of giving up, rather, I sometimes beg my coach to let me play in a male team. We have training every other day, but it is so draining that exhaustion lasts well into the following day.

In 2016, I was named as the best female rugby player. This recognition was totally unexpected for me. I was very happy and totally overwhelmed. I was given a certificate and a tablet as a prize.”