Big man with big dreams achieved big things
Did we spot a tear in Trevor Gregory’s eye and a little catch in his voice when he chose to go public that this would be his last Hong Kong Sevens as chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union.
Gregory used the pre-tournament press conference to announce to the world he was stepping down after eight years as head honcho. While it wasn’t a secret to the rugby community, it was certainly a surprise to the four coaches sharing centre stage – Gordon Tietjens (New Zealand), Ben Ryan (Fiji), Simon Amor (England) and Neil Powell (South Africa).
All four have been longtime visitors, either as a player or coach, and they have become intimate friends with Gregory. They, like most others in Hong Kong, will be sad to see the big and hearty avuncular figure step into the background.
Gregory has played a massive role in raising the profile of the Sevens and turning it into an unqualified success. The harder part was getting rugby accepted by the local community and the HKRFU did it riding on the back of its iconic event.
When Gregory took over in June, 2006, the Sevens had survived its biggest challenge – during Sars – and it was on an upward growth curve. Every year the tournament was a sell-out and Gregory’s biggest challenge was not to sell tickets, but to placate angry fans left out in the cold.
The Sevens was still regarded as an outpouring of drunken gweilo excessiveness but it began to change with the Hong Kong team fielding more Chinese players, allowing the local community to also relate to the event.
Gregory was the man behind Chan Fuk-ping, Hong Kong’s first Chinese player to play at the Sevens, nurturing him and even giving him employment. The numbers of Chinese players have continued to increase and today we have three in the squad – Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Kwok Ka-chun and Tsang Hing-hung.
One of Gregory’s biggest achievements was the close ties he built with the Hong Kong Olympic Committee. Aided by the late Con Conway, a vice-president, rugby soon became known as a ‘local’ sport. Hosting the 2009 East Asian Games helped and rugby sevens did the city proud winning the silver medal, the first team sport to win a medal.
They repeated the silver-medal triumph at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou. Gregory won’t be in charge when this year’s Asian Games is held in Incheon, South Korea, in September – the HKRFU’s elections are in June – but the team will know how important it is to carry on his legacy and win a medal, preferably gold.
Today, rugby sevens is an elite sport at the Hong Kong Sports Institute – another achievement – and it is imperative they produce results by winning medals at the Asian Games or qualifying for the Olympics.
If there is any blot, it is one over which he had no control – the failure to get the government cracking on building the Kai Tak sports complex. Gregory’s dream had been to host a few of the 2019 World Cup matches at the new venue. That is still up in the air and something he will pass on to his successor, widely tipped to be former Hong Kong captain Pieter Schats.
Thankfully, Gregory will not be lost to rugby. He was appointed president of the Asian Rugby Football Union last year and from this position he will continue working for the betterment of the game in Asia and Hong Kong.
But having to let go of the top job at home will be painful. There is bound to be a tear in his eye come Sunday night at So Kon Po.