Kristine Lovatt’s rugby journey continues to find success

Over the last decade and a half, Kristine Lovatt has played for 12 rugby teams across Canada and travelling to three continents to referee games all the way up to Olympic qualifiers. An impressive feat for anyone, but especially for someone who had “literally never even heard the word rugby” before she started attending Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in 2006.

Both Lovatt and the game have grown a lot since she started playing. She had always been sporty, and the school encouraged one sport a season. When the time came to choose her spring sport in 2007, it was an easy decision.

“My options were softball and rugby,” Lovatt said. “And despite being relatively athletic, I become the most uncoordinated individual when you put any sort of object in my hand to play a sport.”

Though the highest levels of the sport were in her future, a relaxed and comfortable environment is what helped develop her love for the game. The sport season at Athol Murray was often very intense, but the start of rugby in the spring was just the opposite. She calls the difference between seasons “that feeling of taking your jeans off at the end of the day.”

The environment was nurtured by her coach, Darren Beaulac. His focus on making the game fun was formative for Lovatt. “It’s pretty hard to imagine I would have stuck around in the sport in those early days had he not been creating that kind of environment,” she said.

Another major advantage for Lovatt was that she got involved in the sport as it really began to expand for women in Saskatchewan. When she was just 15, she got to play on Team Saskatchewan’s U19 team—simply because there weren’t that many girls who wanted to play. Many of her school teammates were playing for the provincial team, so there was plenty of encouragement to try out for a spot.

“I tried out for Team Sask because I could,” Lovatt said. “Most years if you showed up you could play; there were only a couple cuts. It kind of fell into my lap and I was playing a whole heck of a lot more than I thought I would be.”

She stuck with rugby—at school and at the provincial level—through high school and when she moved out to Nova Scotia to attend Acadia University. But it was the chance to make a few extra bucks (AKA: beer money) in grad school that brought her a new challenge. She took her first refereeing course through Saskatchewan Rugby in March 2017 and officiated for the first time at a boys’ high school game that spring.

She quickly learned that refereeing was an even better use of her skills and personality than playing had been. “My overall personality has fit better in this context of the game,” she said. Her years as a player helped her build a broad knowledge of the game and an understanding of the rules in context, and she says her new role is a natural fit for her organizational skills and gut feelings.

The shift from player to referee might have been unexpected, but it took off quickly for Lovatt. Within a few months of starting to officiate, she was traveling to other provinces and meeting “some of the best referees in the country.” Not only did she enjoy meeting new people, but those connections also helped her leap to the next level as a ref—by the fall of 2017, she was refereeing university-level games.

“Within six months I had already achieved what it took me 12 years to achieve as a player,” she said.

Then in 2022, things really took off—which Lovatt certainly wasn’t expecting after the pandemic had her questioning how involved she would be in rugby going forward. That year, she got the opportunity to referee the Canada Games, which led to travelling to Mexico that fall to ref at the RAN Super Sevens. Since then, she has refereed games around the world:

  • South Africa, April 2023: World Rugby Development Academy
  • Ottawa, July 2023: World Rugby Pacific Four Series
  • Langford, August 2023: Olympic Qualifiers
  • Chile, October 2023: Pan American Games

Next on the schedule is the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series in Uruguay in March 2024, and though every new experience is exciting, it’s the people and the experience that keep stoking the fire for Lovatt.

“Rugby gave me a place in the world,” she said. “Refereeing in particular is what has…taught me that if you do things because you love them, because they matter to you and you value them, that’s going to lead to an authentic and meaningful life.”

She credits the game with helping her tolerate failure, build a strong work ethic, and balance responsibility, but most importantly to be part of a supportive community—on and off the field. After all her experiences, she wants to help others who could find their place on the field, too.

“I just want to stay involved with the game for as long as I can,” she said. “…I want to play my part in helping other people fall in love with the game.”