During the Soviet era, international athletic competition was often seen as an extension of politics. Fans exuded a similar vibe during a recent rugby contest between the Georgian and Russian national teams in Tbilisi.
Playing on Georgian soil for the first time since their 2008 war, Georgia drubbed Russia by a final score of 46-0 on March 17. The shutout was all the more satisfying for the players because it put Georgia atop its European Nations Cup group, while leaving Russia to fifth in the six-team division.
Georgia is the reigning champion of the European Nations Cup, an annual competition among the International Rugby Board’s lower-tier member-countries.
For many of the 30,000 spectators who packed Tbilisi’s Avchala stadium, the match was an opportunity to avenge Georgia’s humiliating defeat during its 2008 war with Russia, and the stationing of Russian troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
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Paul Rimple is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi. Justyna Mielnikiewicz is a freelance photojournalist also based in Tbilisi.