New Kazakhstan Rugby president Aigul Jartybayeva has no doubt what the game means to her.
“Thanks to rugby I am who I am today,” Jartybayeva told World Rugby. “Definitely [I have] a huge love and respect for this sport.”
In March it was announced that Jartybayeva, who represented Kazakhstan at two Rugby World Cups, had been unanimously elected as the union’s president on an initial four-year term.
The former national team player has ambitious plans for the role, and says she is driven by a “great desire” to spread rugby’s reach in the central Asian nation.
“I have been going a long time, I really love rugby and everyone in Kazakhstan who knows rugby, knows what rugby is for me in general,” she said.
“I am very glad that everyone unanimously supported my candidacy.”
Jartybayeva added: “[I have] a great desire to continue developing this wonderful sport in our country, to help the young generation achieve great victories in the world sports arena.”
Kazakhstan have a rich history in the women’s game, having appeared at six successive Rugby World Cups between 1994-2014 and won five Asia Rugby Women’s Championship titles — more than any other team.
However, that success has not always translated into popularity with the wider sporting public in Kazakhstan.
According to Jartybayeva, rugby is the country’s sixth most popular sport and she admits that the “only problem with which we have always struggled is, of course, state support through funding”.
Participation will form a key pillar of Jartybayeva’s presidency, and she is already putting initiatives in place that she hopes will give more of Kazakhstan’s 18.7 million people an opportunity to play rugby.
“There are 17 regions in the Republic of Kazakhstan, we cover only 10 regions. In this regard, we have already started working with state bodies for the development of rugby in each region [through] children’s branches and clubs,” she explained.
“We are also preparing a programme to introduce rugby into the school system of education in the subject of 'physical culture and sports’, so that every child from school can play rugby.”
Jartybayeva herself was first introduced to the game as a 15-year-old, when she was living in the city of Taldykorgan.
Four years later, in 1997, she was invited to a national team training camp and began a fruitful five-year spell playing in Kazakhstan’s distinctive yellow kit.
The following year, Jartybayeva played at Rugby World Cup 1998 in Amsterdam, where the team finished ninth, and was a member of the Kazakh squad that finished 11th in Barcelona in 2002.
Jartybayeva won the Asia Rugby Women’s Sevens Series with Kazakhstan in Hong Kong in both 2000 and 2001, being named player of the latter tournament. Last year, meanwhile, she was named as one of Asia Rugby’s top 80 Unstoppables.
Kazakhstan are still in contention to make a return to Rugby World Cup at New Zealand 2021, while the country’s women’s sevens team will compete for a place at Tokyo 2020 in the Olympic repechage tournament in Monaco.
What would it mean to Jartybayeva to see her nation back on the biggest stage?
“It is a great honour for each team to participate in the world championships, for which we purposefully prepare every year by putting a lot of effort and resources in the preparation of the team,” she said.