Rugby shows the way forward
All you fans of the Hong Kong Sevens, take a bow. The flipside to your three days of revelry- and spending- is a new ground in Tin Shui Wai which has already been aptly dubbed the field of dreams. The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union has once again shown the profits from the Hong Kong Sevens are not salted away for a rainy day when it announced this week a new international-sized artificial pitch would be built in Tin Shui Wai. It will cost the HKRFU HK$10 million and will come fully equipped with floodlights. Rugby will not be the only sport to benefit either, with soccer also expected to share the facility.
Time and again rugby officials have explicitly stated the multi-million-dollar profits from the world's most popular sevens tournament are ploughed back into the community. Tin Shui Wai can count its lucky stars. The ground will not only benefit the 350 registered players from the Tin Shui Wai Eagle Rugby Club, but will also be a boon to schools in the area which can use the facility for PE lessons.
The HKRFU's head of community and development, Robbie McRobbie, says the aim is to target youth, and with Tin Shui Wai having the highest density of young people in Hong Kong, it was the obvious choice. What rugby hopes to create is a reservoir of young talent, who perhaps one day will go on to represent Hong Kong on the international field. That's in the future. Local officials hope the immediate payback is that the new ground will become a focal point for the township's disaffected youth to turn to sport. Tin Shui Wai is known as the 'city off sadness' after a string of suicides and family tragedies linked to the high unemployment rate. It is to be hoped that Rugby can open doors to the teenagers for a better and more promising future.
The new pitch will promote sports and a 'positive lifestyle', says Yuen Long district councillor Lee Yuet-man. His views were echoed by Eddie Lau Hau-chun, the president of the Tin Shui Wai Eagle Rugby Club, who believes parents will also become more closely involved with their children through the club. All of this wouldn't have been possible without the government, which has given the ground on a lease to the HKRFU. With the help of the Tin Shui Wai District Council and HK$3 million from the Home Affairs Bureau's Sir David Trench Fund, which supports the development of recreational facilities, this new field of dreams will become a reality.
The HKRFU has long been the most progressive sporting governing body. Others should take a leaf out of its book, especially how the leasing deal was worked out whereby in return for providing the real estate, the government gets a ready-made programme to help teenagers in townships. It is a win-win situation. Not only does the Tin Shui Wai rugby project provide much-needed facilities to the community, which otherwise the government would have had to provide, it also takes children off the streets and into a healthier lifestyle.
By sharing the ground with soccer, the HKRFU has once again shown its goodwill. King's Park in Jordan is another example of the sharing spirit with a number of other sports- soccer and baseball, for example- all benefiting from the HKRFU's largesse.
Rugby is fortunate in having the Hong Kong Sevens, an event that has yet to be duplicated by any other sport. But that's not to say it is impossible. It took years of dedication and hard work to shape the Sevens into a money-maker. But thankfully for the game, over the years it has had visionary people at the top and enthusiastic volunteers. The fruits of their hard work are being handsomely reaped now and being translated into projects like that in Tin Shui Wai. This will help propagate the sport even further.
Other outdoor team sports like soccer, cricket and hockey must strive to follow suit. Soccer is in the process of putting its house in order and, with government help, is expected to once again become a vibrant force territory-wide.
What about cricket and hockey, which are two minority sports, as rugby was once considered? It is understood that cricket, too, will soon benefit from government patronage and get a new ground which one day could become a larger venue for the popular Hong Kong Sixes. The lack of a sizeable venue has been holding back the cricket community from fast-tracking the sport in the same way rugby has done.
Hockey, too, must make representations. The King's Park hockey pitch is outdated and too small to host top-class international events. Everyone is hoping that the new Kai Tak sports hub will provide the answer, but it would be better to take the initiative and push for facilities to develop the sport, just like rugby has done.