Rugby pioneer's surprise at award

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 October, 2011, 12:00am


When Ruth Mitchell came to Hong Kong 36 years ago, little did she know the immense role she would play in women's rugby union in the city.

Born and bred in Liverpool, Mitchell was a big fan of Premier League soccer side Everton and had never even played rugby before she set foot in Hong Kong.

But she made such an impression over the years that the International Rugby Board (IRB) chose her as the recipient of the Women's Personality of the Year Award last week.

Mitchell (pictured), 56, is one of the most popular and well-liked personalities in Hong Kong and Asian rugby union circles, but the award came as a total surprise to her.

She thought she was attending the IRB Awards Dinner in Auckland the night after the World Cup final only as a member of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union contingent.

The rest knew she was getting the honour, but kept quiet about it.

'It was a huge shock when they said my name,' Mitchell said. 'I got onto the stage and saw the All Blacks team sitting there looking up at me.

'Even today I've no idea what I was asked or what I said. I was led off to do radio and television interviews, then I got congratulated by all these rugby greats. It was hard to take in. It's been a very hectic time and it's only now starting to sink in.'

It was a double celebration for Mitchell as she also received the Asian Rugby Football Union Women's Personality Award in June.

The star treatment has not stopped since she got back to Hong Kong, with friends sending champagne and presents to her home.

'When I finally got to check my Facebook page there were 200 messages on it,' she said. 'Then I opened my e-mail and there were 60 e-mails from all over the place.'

Her love affair with rugby started when she came to Hong Kong on holiday and met her husband Ross, who was in the police force at the time. Ross is a former rugby union referee and is now secretary general of the Asian Rugby Football Union. She first togged up for Police RFC and played many times for Hong Kong, including in the first women's international test match in Asia.

She went on to play with local club DeA for years, and has been national team manager for both the women's sevens and 15-a-side teams.

She is now serving her third term on the union board as director of development. She has also worked tirelessly to develop women's rugby in the city and is well known for her charity work, helping to raise money for causes such as Rwandan rugby and breast cancer awareness.

Mitchell has two children Craig, 31, and Terry, 30, who have always given her huge support. 'It's been a surreal week, but one I'll not forget for a very long time,' she said.