Juvenile convicts find hope in Rugby

04-Jul-2011 Rugby is considered to be a unique kind of sport. Thanks to it’s distinguished culture, high moral values are firmly ingrained in players, as well as supporters. So what are these core values of rugby? Surely, sportsmanship; teamwork; respect; positive attitudes; and protecting the weak are essential parts of it. “We are one family” - you will often hear this motto among the players.

Remarkably, purely because of these qualities, rugby provided means for resocialization, integration and education in our society. Georgian Rugby Union initiated social projects which clearly highlight these advancements.

Avchala Rugby Challenge - is the title of the new project, started by Giorgi Nizharadze - the president of Rugby Union, and aided by Ministry Of Corrections And Legal Assistance, as well as UNICEF.

The program is aimed at diverting 14-18 years old ex-convicts from recriminalizing delinquency. The project started off in this April, and 45 out of 160 detained juveniles in Avchala Colony have voluntarily joined the game. Now, the training sessions are being carried out by coaches Nodar Andguladze, Zurab Kikodze, Malkhaz Cheishvili and the national team player Lekso Gugava twice per week. UNICEF has also provided the kits for the players. Notably, such project is only paralleled by Argentina’s penitentiary system, which allows adult convicts to hold rugby games in prison.

“Ex-convicts form a risk-group” - says the president of Rugby Union Giorgi Nizharadze - “Rather than going back to criminal life in the streets, we have to offer them a healthy choice as an alternative - and this is Rugby, which is much more than just a sport. I am confident that some rugby clubs will offer assistance to these kids and that it will speed the process of resocialization.”

“Couple of kids pick up pretty fast, hopefully, they will have a bright future” - states Nodar Andguladze - the coach, and one of the project supervisors - “The whole concept behind this project is to help kids reintegrate into society once they leave the Colony. When they finish their time, rather than going back to criminal life we want our local clubs to take them in.”

30-man strong team core has formed in Avchala detention centre since April and as the time goes, the players - in addition to trainining regularly - also get familiar with the rugby ethos and some of the literature, among with developing the sense of hygiene.

The project supervisors believe that the fundamental rugby values, healthy way of life and the new social experiences will make these youngsters worthy members of the society.

On May 29, Avchala juveniles had a debut match against the professionals of the same age: During the IRB’s Junior World Rugby Trophy 2011 the U-20 national teams of Japan, Zimbabve and Georgia visited the colony. The head coach of Georgia Richie Dixon also attended the game, while ‘Total Rugby’ TV recorded a film, which was transmitted in more than 30 countries.

The convicts and the visitors formed two teams and started the game. At the end of the match, juveniles received signed team t-shirts and the balls as a gift from the guests. Naturally, motivational speeches were also given. Besides this game, which was held under IRB’s Legacy Programme, some other events have also taken place in Tbilisi, namely coaching work shops, a beach rugby competition, and a memorandum to unite with UN in it’s ‘End Violence Against Women” campaign. Strikingly, IRB deemed this year’s Legacy programme activities in Tbilisi to be unparalleled tournament’s history.
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