Rugby’s positive impact in a troubled land


By Alistair Watt


It has only been running for three months, but a project bringing rugby coaching to children in Georgian villages is already bringing about a positive change to communities still dealing with the devastation of the 2008 August War, claim organisers.
“After school, they have nothing much to do. They do homework, then they help at home or in the orchards – adult responsibilities from a young age. This project gives them more of a real childhood, something fun,” says Giorgi Kacharava, a 32-year old Georgian rugby player capped 15 times for his country in the 2000s, who is now helping the Samaritan Association of Georgia (SSK) with this exciting rugby initiative.

As captain of Lelo, the current champions of Georgia, and part of the recently formed Tbilisi Caucasians, Kacharava has plenty of knowledge and skills to pass on to the children involved, who come from the villages of Ditsi, Arbo, Qordi and Tirdznisi in Shida Kartli region.

“I have good contacts in the Georgian Rugby Union and wanted to put a project together in this region. I wanted people to have a healthy lifestyle and help each other,” says Kacharava, who does a variety of community volunteer work, including with young offenders, using rugby as a tool.


“The kids here live difficult lives, many of them below the poverty line, and some have problems after the trauma of what happened a few years ago. I think playing sport, in this case rugby, helps them to focus on something positive and gives them a better upbringing,” adds the former Georgian international.

When writing the project, ‘Rugby for Socially Disadvantaged Children in Georgia’, it was Kacharava’s intention to make sure it could be self-sustainable and so coaches are being trained in the villages themselves. By the time the one-year project ends next autumn, SSK and Kacharava will have established a rugby club, coached by local adults for local children.

When war broke out in 2008, these villages were in the frontline during what were Georgia’s darkest days of recent years.

“There was total panic. Everybody left these villages. They feel betrayed by the Georgian government, the Russians, everyone. Many of them have friends and family members who live on the other side who they cannot see now,” says Kacharava, whose passion for the project and the children involved is abundantly clear.

Before the war, villagers there could earn a living from growing and selling fruit and other crops but the situation, six years on, has deteriorated with more than half of the population living below the poverty line.


The project, financed by a combination of the Austrian Samaritan Association and the Georgian Rugby Union, with assistance from UN Women Georgia, has been met with massive enthusiasm.

“They are learning a lot. When we came to the first session, they were so happy and excited. Now they are really motivated, getting organised and properly prepared for the sessions,” reports Kacharava, whose brother Davit, a key member of Georgia’s national team, visits the project when possible along with other international players.

The coaching covers more than rugby, as children are taught about healthy lifestyles and healthy eating, while its inclusivity is another strength, as Kacharava notes: “The kids range in age from seven to 16 and it’s very inclusive. Whether boys or girls, everyone who turns up, plays. The numbers go up and down but it is never less than 40.”

The former Georgia international, who grins through the pain of a broken rib suffered during a recent club match, says: “It is important that they feel the spirit of rugby, and take on its values. Teamwork, fair play, depending on each other, using each other’s strengths and covering each other’s weaknesses.”

The field on which Kacharava and his coaches educate the children is not in ideal condition and he has identified plans for the near future.


“The GRU helps us out financially and also with equipment – balls, bibs, cones etc. However, we still need to erect rugby posts on the field, and I also want to refurbish the football goals and basketball nets – the main thing is they engage in sport.”

Looking to the future, SSK and Kacharava hope that this project can act as a pioneer for the more deprived regions of the country, and engender the same community spirit that is already evident in these Shida Kartli villages.

There are also plans for matches to be held with teams from across the country, which Kacharava outlines enthusiastically.

“Once the team is established, we will take them to Kakheti and play against a team there. Hopefully, they can make new friends. We’ll also bring them to Tbilisi, which to the kids in the villages feels like a long way away. Their self-esteem is often low but when they play against kids of the same age, from other places, they can show that they are their equals, giving them a real confidence boost.”



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