A life in rugby is always unique, and Chantel John is no exception. An accomplished player, a budding international referee, and a police officer on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic on her home island of St. Lucia – these are interesting days for this Caribbean rugby star.
John has watched St. Lucia rugby, and in particular women’s rugby, grow since she took up the game in 2004, at around the same time she finished up at Castries Comprehensive Secondary School.
Rugby training was held at the school for the entire island, and she was encouraged by a friend to try it out. John had already been an accomplished football player – representing St. Lucia in fact – so she gave it a try.
At the time there were not too many female rugby players on the island, so they played in a series of trial tournaments with the goal of making the St. Lucia team. For John, rugby was welcoming, it was comfortable, there was “lots of laughing and fun” and she knew she was in the right place. As she says, “everyone was looking out for you”.
As the sport grew, John became a member and captain of the Whiptail Warriors, one of St. Lucia’s most prominent teams.
NATIONAL TEAM PRIDE
John quickly made the St. Lucia team and has represented her island nation as recently as January, when St. Lucia won the Martinique Women’s Sevens. She has been trying to transition to refereeing but says the coaches and players keep calling and she can’t resist – they “seem to like to have me around”.
John’s fondest memory with the team is a second-place finish at the 2009 Rugby Americas North (then NACRA) tournament in Mexico. With women’s rugby in its early phases on St. Lucia, that effort established the St. Lucia Women as a team on the rise. John has captained the national team on numerous occasions and achieved great victories throughout the Caribbean, but the breakout tournament in Mexico is the one that still means the most.
There is some 15s rugby on St. Lucia, but sevens and 10-a-side are the primary drivers of the game. John is pleased with the growth of the sport and credits St Lucia Rugby President, Colvis Samuels, as the person whose dedication has led to solid growth. Whether it’s organising events and showcases, working with his RAN colleagues, or just simply making sure that players have a ride to training, Samuels is a person that keeps John comforted in knowing the sport has her back.
If you add in Wayne Pantor, the island’s Director of Rugby, who has consistently traveled the island to introduce the sport to prospective players on this football-mad island, the future looks quite bright, and John is excited for the days ahead.
THE WHISTLE CALLS
John made the decision to take up refereeing in 2015 and is enjoying it immensely, despite the occasional call-up to the national team.
Her first assignment was a men’s match on the island. John admits to some initial nerves, but everything calmed down when the teams realised “she doesn’t play” and this police officer is equally comfortable keeping the peace on the rugby pitch.
As a player, John strove to understand the laws of the game to make herself more adept on the field, and this is a major factor in her refereeing approach. She cites fitness and the constant desire to learn the best application of the laws as what excites her most. Her approach is paying off; John was awarded the Technical Official of the Year Award at the St. Lucia National Sports Awards in 2018 and 2019.
A wide range of appointments have come for John as a referee and she has been part of referee teams at the RAN U19 tournaments, the Tropical Sevens in the USA, the Barbados World Rugby Sevens, and numerous national matches.
John credits Scott Harland, Development Manager at RAN, as a great proponent of her refereeing career and a person who always makes the time to review game performance and law with her. She cites Rasta Rashivenge and Nigel Owens as referees she admires, and, with Scott in her corner, would love to go as far as she can with the whistle.
The camaraderie of the referee community has made a similar impression on John as the playing one did. She has enjoyed the multi-day tournaments that have provided her with individualised coaching and the general support of referees from around the world who all jump at the chance to share knowledge and ideas.
BALANCING A CAREER AND RUGBY
Life in St. Lucia has been tough during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this 14-year police veteran is busy with her colleagues as they work to keep the island residents safe.
John, whose title is Women Police Constable, is dealing with curfew enforcement and mask-wearing regulations in shops. At the time of writing only 18 cases have been confirmed throughout the community. She says this low number of cases has led a small percentage of residents to not take it as seriously as they need to, but overall the island is managing well. There are currently no active cases on the island, in part thanks to John and her colleagues' work.
John’s role in the police has been a balancing act for development as a player and referee, although the department has been generally supportive of her sporting passion. She has had to miss some rugby events to fulfill her duties, but that is just a part of life. John has taken it all in her stride.
The pandemic has also halted all sports on the island and any international events that would have enabled John to officiate or compete.
She has her sights set on the goal of refereeing on the World Rugby Sevens Series. Like all referees at this time, she is doing what she can to keep developing without games to referee – keeping her fitness levels up, watching film, and working on her understanding of the laws and their application.
Once things return to some sort of normal, John wants to keep working towards her ultimate goal. With the intelligence and tenacity that shines whenever she plays and referees, this goal may eventually become reality.