September 22, 2018 became a memorable date for rugby referee, Chantel John. On this day she officially became the first Saint Lucian female international rugby official. She was part of the officiating team at the Rugby Americas North (regional governing body of the sport) Sevens Championship. The two day tournament was held in Bellevue Polo Club, Bridgetown, Barbados. This was a qualifying tournament to World Rugby Sevens Series Hong Kong Sevens and Lima 2019 Pan American Games. It was indeed a notable achievement.
Interest in the sport of rugby started early for Chantel, a member of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force. As a student at Castries Comprehensive Secondary School, she used to watch rugby training on the school playing field. Despite the fact that the training had dominantly male players, she became fascinated with the sport and thought it looked enjoyable. A fellow footballer, Yasmine Antoine, who just started rugby, encouraged her to try out. From that time, rugby has become one of her passions.
Chantel have been called to be part of the female national team on many occasions from 2004 to as recent as June 2018. All through the years, even when she was not actively playing, she always made herself available to support the development of the sport locally. Currently she is the captain of the female team of a local club, Whiptail Warriors Rugby Club that she considers her second family who supports her on and off the field. This is also the reason why rugby has become important to her. In her words: “what I love the most about rugby is the family unity that it comes with.”
When asked how she transitioned from being a player to referee, she said she was always keen on learning the laws of the game as a player; she used it to her advantage while playing on the pitch. She also mentioned that officiating a match poses more challenges than playing in a match.
“As a referee, you have to keep up with the full game. You have to concentrate while watching the game and running at the same time. The decisions you make affects the outcome of the game so it is important to be as accurate as possible.”
When asked what difficulties she had encountered as a referee, she mentioned that there have been occasions when she officiated for male matches and players would try to make the calls before her and try to intimidate her. Good thing that never worked on her.
Rugby, according to Chantel, poses the same amount of riskas any other sport. The key for her is physical preparation and learning how to protect herself. She also considers this as the advantage of the sport: it is physically challenging so she learns to push herself to the limit and learns never to give up until the last whistle blows. Interestingly, she has learned to apply this in her day to day life.
It pleases her to see the increase of female participation in the sport.
“Rugby is now an Olympic sport and this opens up a lot of opportunities such as scholarships for many women and girls, so I would encourage everyone to give it a try. Rugby has become a sport for both genders and sometimes I even think that women play with more heart than men as we are naturally more emotional,” she said.
When asked what is her next step, Chantel said, “I want to be a FIFA referee as I am also a local football official and definitely an official at a World Rugby Series.”