Anastassiya Khamova from Kazakhstan has devoted her life for rugby and kept on giving this game everything she has in her power and talent and not only as a player but as a referee and as part of the team who made a presentation to the IOC- International Olympic Committee In October 2009 to include rugby in the Olympics which was a huge and historical step for rugby all over the globe.
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Anastassiya who has started playing rugby since she was 20 years old had no idea what are the opportunities that this game is holding for her in the future. Before rugby, she had played basketball and volleyball in university, but she did not have that passion for each as she did for rugby because in her opinion rugby combines many sports at the same time which makes it an enjoyable and a unique sport; “In rugby you combine running, wrestling, football, handball all together and all of that happens with a ball so it’s cool, it’s really cool“.
Anastassiya’s journey with rugby is certainly not a short one, as she grew older her passion for the game evolved and she went on following her dreams and goals which led her on to playing in 3 Women’s Rugby World cups with Kazakhstan National Women Rugby team. She described her experience in competing in the World Cup as an emotional one. “I have been in three different countries in Canada, England, and France and all countries are different but everywhere they have a lot of people who come to support the teams. It did not matter if they do not know where Kazakhstan is and they were very surprised when they asked me this question “where are you from?” and I reply “we are from Kazakhstan” their first reaction is “Wow, so you play rugby!”. They supported us and it was very good, it was a very emotional tournament”, she said.
“this is your moment to shine”
Each experience one goes through leaves a memorable memory in their heads and Anastassiya’s most memorable memory in all of the three world cups she competed in is in her first one which was in Edmonton, Canada 2006.
Before she and her team got to Canada and as they were training back home in Kazakhstan she was a substitute and not from the main 15 players but once they got to Canada the odds had worked in her favour and with the trust and belief of her coach in her she played as a scrum-half in their first game.
“Before the world cup we trained back at home and I was on a bench, so not on the first 15 players, and when we came to Canada I became the scrum-half from the start and I was surprised because my coach came and said to me “okay, you are ready to go” and my first reaction was “WHAT?”.
It was my first big tournament and we played against Samoa and through one hour and a half road I was really nervous but when we got to the pitch I calmed down and said okay this is your moment to shine and I tried to do my best” she confidently said.
One of Anastassiya’s life highlights that still gives her goosebumps whenever she thinks about is being part of the team that made a presentation to the IOC- International Olympic Committee in October 2009 to include rugby in the Olympics. She went on talking about her experience in being amongst that team.
“I was surprised when someone from the IRB-International rugby board called me and invited me to join the IOC program to include rugby in Olympic games. My first question was “why?”. He replied “nobody expects that in Kazakhstan the girls play rugby, and everybody knows you” because in that period of time I was a referee, a manager, and a player so I combined all of this stuff”.
She continued saying “it was very difficult because of language, because the two first meetings in IOC were in English and I was very nervous, but I understood that it’s very important because rugby in the Olympic it’s such a fantastic thing”. And the most impressive moment in all of this as Anastassiya depicted was when they voted and they counted the votes and said rugby sevens is included in the Olympic games.
Anastassiya recounted her surprise and assured that rugby being included in the Olympic games has made a difference in terms of financial support and she believes that it shined a light on the sport and made it more recognisable.
Alongside her playing career Anastassiya developed another passion in rugby as she took the whistle in her hand and started her refereeing job, her first rugby refereeing experience was at Hong Kong Sevens in 2004, she also refereed at Dubai Sevens and the Asia Games.
“Rugby referees are a big family and when I came for the first time, they were very friendly. It doesn’t matter if you speak English or Russian or just stay silent and whistling”, Anastassiya said. Although Anastassiya’s refereeing job had not been free of challenges and barriers, she managed to overcome those difficulties and succeed at it.
One of the most challenging things she had to go through is being both a referee and a player and separating each role from the other as she said. It certainly wasn’t a simple and easy mission for Anastassiya, but she did not let that stop her from doing her best and embracing her passion.
“When you are a player you have to play and not referee, and when you are a referee you have to stay as a referee, not like a player or a coach, so it is very important, and it is very difficult to change your mind from player to referee and from referee to player”, she explained.
“rugby it is like a culture”
Being a referee did not fulfill Anastassiya’s ambitious therefore she went on providing her experience and knowledge to other referees in Kazakhstan as a match official educator, beside helping in developing rugby and working with women in Almaty rugby club, and she ultimately believes that in order to have professional rugby players you need to start with them from young ages.
“We are concentrated mostly on the kids, and on the GIR program. I started playing rugby at 20 but I think girls and boys have to start when they are like 6 or 7 years old. It is very important because rugby is like a culture, and without young players, there would not be a good national team.
For example, you might have a player in a national team who has trained track and field but this is a culture so when you start playing rugby when you are 7 years old then it is in your blood it makes a big difference”, Anastassiya passionately said.
One of the biggest difficulties in developing in Kazakhstan as Anastassiya assured is getting more girls into rugby and dealing with parents. “We are looking for more girls in rugby when you go to schools and you ask boys and girls who want to join us and play rugby? The girls say “it is a men’s sport, it is not for girls” but we are trying to make rugby more recognisable with parents by trying to explain to them that it is not a fight first of all, but it is a game, it is a clever game”.
It goes without saying that Anastiassiya’s rugby journey will not come to an end anytime soon and that she still has so much to offer and to give to the rugby community, as she is still looking forward to trying more roles and positions in rugby. “I hope to try other positions such as coaching, maybe it works hopefully, I cross my fingers, and also I am looking forward to match official education because I like this, and I like to teach young referees”.
Watch Asia Rugby Live with Anastassiya Khamova
Eventually, Anastassiya Khamova is one of many women in Asia Rugby who continues to inspire us day after day as we get to know them closely, and when you get to know more about them you cannot help but to feel how empowering and inspiring they are, and despite they face challenges every day but yet here they are offering so much for this unique game.