Nika Amashukeli, a 28-year-old Georgian referee, made history by becoming the first arbiter from a Tier 2 rugby country to judge a game between Tier 1 nations when he was picked for the match between Wales and Canada at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium last summer. Since then, the demand for the young professional has not ceased at international tournaments. On November 12, Amashukeli will judge the 2023 Rugby World Cup qualifier between Portugal and Kenya, while on November 19 he will take up an assistant referee role for the match between England and New Zealand.
Despite his busy schedule abroad, Amashukeli found time for an exclusive interview with agenda.ge to discuss the most interesting and challenging nuances of his career, prospects of Georgian rugby, and his future plans.
A: It was a great match. Tokyo’s national stadium was filled with over 60,000 fans, which made the match even more special. As for the game itself, both teams played top quality rugby, leaving the crowd impressed. Japan was close to another historic victory [following their defeat of Ireland and Scotland at the 2019 World Cup], but fell short. Overall, the game had pace, tension and excitement, exactly what the audience loves. After the match the evaluation of the judging team was very good. I think we [the referee team] contributed a lot to the game.
A: For me, as a referee from a Tier 2 rugby country, being involved in high-level matches is very special. It is also a motivation and inspiration for referees from other countries who are not in elite rugby nations. For me it is the greatest passion, as I have been striving since childhood to have the honour of representing Georgia in the international sports arena. Of course, this is [also] a great prestige for Georgian rugby and for the country as a whole.
A: In this particular case, the main criteria is how the individual demonstrates a high level of knowledge of officiating. I am very happy for this title, as [it means] my hard work for the career has been appreciated.
The national referee school is outstanding with its discipline, structure and achievements. We have a very young referee corps with ambitious, mentally and physically strong people. At Rugby Europe competitions our arbiters are a step above [those from] all other countries and the demand [for them] is very high thanks to Davit Shubitidze, the head of the referee management service, Luka Kilasonia, the referee development manager and David McHugh from the management team, who created this environment.
A: Since early childhood, sport has been my number one field of interest, although I have never stopped intellectual growth [either]. Without education and knowledge, success in sports, especially in team sports, will not be easily achieved. I tried several sports including swimming, judo and football, but none of them gave me the passion rugby did. In 2007, I watched Rugby World Cup matches featuring Georgia, and it finally gave me the push to connect my life with rugby.
A: Rugby players' physical training, speed and strength have improved a lot. Therefore, more emphasis is now placed on safety and head contact [management]. Such moments are regulated by a number of processes and approaches, and on the pitch, it is the referees who ensure all this, so the main pressure and criticism [in making right calls] falls on us. In addition, modern rugby has become much more focused on the framework of the rulebook, which has led to more involvement of referees in the course of the game. Obviously [some] spectators do not like this, which [sometimes] leads to aggression [towards arbiters], but they have to remember that the referee is doing something on the field that is a specific focus [as directed] by World Rugby [governing body]. All this cannot be done without mental and physical preparation. In addition, an elite referee must understand very well the specifics, dynamics, intensity and structure of the individual game. I would single out mental strength as my main advantage.
A: Criticism, insults and intolerance from the public are an integral part of a referee's life. Rugby in general is so complex and multifaceted that there is no losing team that will be satisfied with the refereeing, there are still moments to focus on. Also, there is no match that the referee will conduct without mistakes. The coaching staff of New Zealand said they “could not find the appropriate language” for my refereeing style. It was their point of view and opinion, but there is World Rugby referee management which objectively evaluates every match and makes referee appointments for future matches accordingly.
Match between New Zealand and Argentina. Photo from europop.ge
A: The book will be about my rugby journey which started in 2007. My experiences, feelings, emotions, curiosities, pains, difficulties and victories will be shared to the readers. There is no exact time for its presentation as it depends on how things will develop in my career.
A: It was a very difficult road and it gets more difficult with each new season. Since 24, I have been in an elite environment and I have faced so many difficulties that I could not even imagine. It is very difficult not to lose yourself in this environment, to maintain your niche, features, handwriting and establish yourself. I had to work and concentrate on many things, I had to change my regime, outlook and attitude. There was no entertainment, no laziness and no retreat. In this environment, you are constantly out of your comfort zone and this is already a common story - big games are accompanied by great pressure, all my actions are under scrutiny, therefore the responsibility is great.game. Elite referees are judged on a number of criteria, from physical shape to game management There have been times in my career - and there will be more - when I had to make tough decisions that would make a whole country [represented in the match] hate me, but it was necessary for the and demonstration of effective rugby language skills. The list is long, but I think mental resilience is the main skill that drives my career forward and what I have to constantly work on. If not for this skill, I would have failed at many points in my career. My advice for future referees is not to lose their individuality, to know what their niche is and work on making it better.
A: It is a little bit early to talk about this, as selection of referees [for the tournament] will take place in the spring, and until then no one knows which judges will be in the list. The competition is huge, so my upcoming performances will be of utmost importance. My primary goal is to do well in the difficult tests in November and then, already in December, to be in optimal shape for elite European club competitions.
Six Nations is a private organisation and integrating into it is related to many aspects: the country’s rugby awareness, logistics, human and material resources, superior broadcasting, sales and flight availability. My personal prediction for now is that Georgia will not be accepted into Six Nations in the near future. The Georgian rugby union must strengthen work in all directions [in the meanwhile], with the state and individuals also participating.
Nika Amashukeli and the president of Georgia rugby union, Ioseb Tkemaladze. Photo from Nika Amashukeli's private archive
A: The rugby union is actively involved in ensuring a safe environment for referees. I always feel their support in organising flights, arranging visas and accommodations. Their support is really highly appreciated.