The Sky's the limit for Hong Kong Women's Rugby
Hong Kong Women’s Rugby has come a long way since building it from the ground up. Starting from only participating in one Asia tour per year, to debuting at the 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup in Ireland. According to World Rugby, the Hong Kong Women's Rugby team is now ranked 23rd in the world and is the only team lead by a female head coach in the competition.
"Hong Kong women’s development has been improved in the last 5 years on an international level and local level," says Chan Leong-Sze Royce, Women's forward’s coach and ex-national player.
Hong Kong National Women's 7s team and 15s team has obtained significant achievements in the last couple of years. Hong Kong Sports Institution (HKSI) has funded the Women's 7s team as a full-time training squad in 2013.
"10 years ago we have one tour per year. Players train six weeks before one tour, and after the tour, you dismiss and go back to your class, and train with your coach." said Christy Cheng, Captain of National 7s team.
Now, the Hong Kong 7s program has since become Cheng's full-time job. However, there are still players from the 15s team who has to work for a nine to five job besides playing for the National. Cheng hopes that the media can give more exposure to the women's rugby scene, hence benefits more players to be contracted and get resources that are required to focus solely on sports.
"The 15s team has also been significant in terms of development, where in the past, there was probably only one team for Hong Kong, whereas now we can talent seek and build two teams that are contenders on the international level," said Jo Hull, Hong Kong National Women's Rugby Head Coach, at the open training which - showcasing the newest rising stars of the local women's rugby team on September 9th in So Kong Po.
The local female rugby community has gradually expanded in the past years. Samantha Feausi, Head of Women’s Rugby Development from Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) shared the development of Women's Rugby in the first Women and Girls Rugby Conference on the 8th September.
She claims that there are currently over 4,500 registered players from senior to minis. Along with a record number of 86 local teams, the number of tertiary teams has doubled to 46 teams in the past year. These numbers reflect the expanding female rugby community is getting more popular and exploding at the tertiary level.
There is also an increase of female representatives in the community with 50 official female coaches and 15 referees which indicates that younger female players have more role models to learn from and relate to, without having to worry about gender barriers in communication.
To cope with the expanding numbers of Rugby teams, Kim Lam, a board member of Hong Kong Rugby Union, who has seen the growth of the women's team provides us with insight that 70% of the funding from the Hong Kong Rugby 7s goes to the development for national players.
Fei Mei, a student committee of Hong Kong Baptist University Rugby Football Union, has been playing rugby for two years. She believes that she has benefited from the HKRU because of the subvention of HKD$12,000 per year for each university's rugby union, facilitating them to hire coaches and purchase equipment needed.
Lam suggests that not just international matches, but on a local level, the HKRU is getting more land space so that they can build more pitch space for smaller developing rugby teams.
"With all the grounds in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, there is simply no space for any more pitch space. Hence, the only place we can go to is the New Territories," Lam added.
The up and coming mini rugby clubs need a home ground for further development. The latest being the Tin Shui Wai Community Rugby Ground being installed in 2016.
The HKRU is trying to develop the local clubs in Hong Kong, so all clubs have a similar standard to those premiership level rugby clubs such as Hong Kong Football Club (HKFC), USRC Tigers to name a few.
This is prompt in order to aid the national team to be able to spot talent, and not just spotting the talent but to "keep the talent in rugby, so when they grow up and have abundant of choices, they choose rugby" according to Hull.
"We do think that there is a long way to go," adds Hull, "there is still room for improvement for the local sports' scene."
In a panel of five where National women rugby players, female athletes from other fields and coaches discuss the challenges that female participants face in sports. Laurel Chor, the producer for VICE News Tonight on HBO and Hong Kong National Rugby Womens Team Member, wants to see a change in the way media talks about Women's sports.
"If we can just talk about it like any other match or game, I would like that," said Chor. She finds the media's coverage on Women's sports often exaggerated their language to enforce that women can do sports like men. Consequently, she encourages media to report both men and women's sports equally.
In fact, being selected into the rugby team is not easy, Christy Cheng, captain of National 7s team, she expects newer rugby players to be more resilient and understand the importance of building a reputation, work hard and proves themselves to get selected.
Christy Cheng is impressed by the enthusiasm of newly joined players; she thinks the "hot-blooded" attitude is very inspirational and reminds her of herself when she just started to join the team.
Chris Garvey, the founder of Habitual and head coach of women's rugby at HKU Sandy Bay RFC, shares that he hopes rugby can be a sport that people can be proud of.
Not just a temporary sport that people play when they are in college, but as well an abiding family sport that players will continue to participate even when they become parents. "I want to see the community continue to grow," added Garvey.
《The Young Reporter》
The Young Reporter (TYR) is an English news publication produced by international journalism students at Hong Kong Baptist University. It started as a printed magazine in 1969. Today, TYR is produced across different platforms.
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