Major League Rugby Referees Series: Canada’s Talal Chaudhry’s Life/Work Balance
31-year-old Talal Chaudhry has been Moe in rugby circles for as long as he can remember. It’s a clear divide; all family and friends outside rugby know him as Talal, while anyone involved in rugby knows him as Moe. And since rugby has occupied many of his waking thoughts for over half his life, that’s a long time.
Chaudhry played rugby for his entire high school career at Streetsville Secondary in Mississauga, Ontario. He didn’t know anything about the game when he began. The coach said “You, you’re a back” and Chaudhry thought that meant he should go to the back of the group. He still laughs about that.
At the end of his four years playing for, he suffered an ACL injury, and knowing he wasn’t going to progress any further as a player, his attention turned to officiating. It was his way to stay involved with the game he loved so much.
Knowing his ultimate goal, Chaudhry attended Brock University but in his second year arranged an exchange program for himself to travel to the University of Otago in New Zealand to work on his refereeing skills and broaden his horizons.
The year he hit New Zealand just happened to be 2011. So not only was Chaudhry immersed in rugby in a rugby nation, but New Zealand was hosting the World Cup that year. The entire experience is imprinted into Chaudhry’s being; to this day his rugby highlight - of all time - is reffing a school boys match and being part of two team Hakas; the passion, the mutual respect, and the intense rugby spirit he felt there made for a life-altering moment for Talal.
So much so that a year after his first arranged exchange, he arranged for another, this time at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, where along with his studies he got to work with Western Force, refereeing at the club level and within the Academy.
These cultural and learning exchanges proved invaluable, and Chaudhry believes they positively impacted not only his enjoyment of rugby refereeing, but his take on the game as well. It’s in every fibre of his being, and he’s keen to work as hard as it takes to be part of it for as long as he can.
Chaudhry is quick to admit that very few referees do it for financial gain. Most have full-time jobs, and even in the case of the most elite World Rugby refs there are often other financial interests. “It takes a lot of investment time-wise and as an individual to maintain the expectation of a professional referee,” Chaudhry says. You have to be very dedicated to keep the fitness at optimal levels, and you have to be driven to do it independently. In this way, professional referees are built with a different mindset, because they know it’s all on them to stay at the top of their game.
Chaudhry himself works a full-time job at Bill Crothers High School as Athletic Director. He feels so fortunate to have a flexible job, but definitely finds the juggle a challenge at times, especially when you factor in that he’s also a newlywed. The balancing act is often a sport unto itself.
Rugby is also unique in that no two games are ever the same. This is also an aspect that Chaudhry enjoys.
Every match has its challenges depending on the style of rugby that’s being played, he explains. The stakes are always different, each team is unique. “Every match provides different challenges. From a technical standpoint you could have two teams which are super set-piece, scrum driven, lineout driven, and that could be the challenge in the game, or you could have two teams that just want to spin the ball and play a fast, electric game. Every game has its own unique space and provides its own unique set of challenges.”
Having spent a fair amount of time behind the whistle on the HSBC World Series 7s Circuit, Chaudhry shares what he loves about Sevens. “It’s an electrifying, fast game of rugby and it’s all skills for all players, very universal in that sense.”
Within the Major League Rugby setting, Chaudhry is enjoying the competitive aspect of refereeing in such a competitive setting. There are no guarantees: do well and you’ll be selected. “As an athlete myself, I am constantly challenging myself to improve my performance from the previous game.”
“At 31, I’ve been doing it for 11 or 12 years now strictly in the refereeing space. I really like how it’s allowed me to build relationships and experience different cultures; this game allows that to happen. I work in a high school sports setting within a specialized setting at Bill Crothers Secondary. I see a lot of different sports that compete at a high level. But none of them compares with what rugby offers; the culture, the experiences, the friendships that you build. It's very different when you compare it to any other sport. That’s what I get out of it.” He’s on the inside of many different sports. The values we hold so dear in rugby simply aren’t shared in other sports.
Most referees would admit that the ultimate goal is to officiate at the World Cup level, and Chaudhry is no different. While he doesn’t control any of that, he concentrates on what he can control and on doing his best in the space he’s in. “I’m trying my best to get there; my training regime and aspirations are there. I’m not sure if I’ll make it – it’s so competitive. But yes it’s a goal and I’m striving to meet it if I can.”
While there is definitely a referee shortage, especially at the community and grassroots level, at the professional level there is plenty of competition. Chaudhry is hopeful that with conditions improving all the time for professional referees, it will attract more young people to the grassroots level as well.
In the meantime, he will control the controllable and let the rest take care of itself.
And I’ll continue to look forward to seeing Talal as the man in the middle and cheer loudest if he reaches the pinnacle of his craft.
In the meantime, Canada and Ontario are so proud of Talal Chaudhry representing us on the rugby scene and are appreciative of his hard work.
And the ever-present life/work balancing act.
Karen L. Gasbarino, April, 2022
Rugby Hive Editor
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