The Force is strong in this one

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 March, 2012, 12:00am


The triumph of good over evil was shining though the South Stand when Darth Vader, aka Dave Hughes, stood with his mates from the Rwanda rugby team, dressed as storm troopers.

Star Wars attire was appropriate because Hughes was 'the Force' who brought Rwandan rugby to Hong Kong for the Sevens.

'I read a book about Rwanda's genocide in 2008,' says Hughes. 'And I decided to go there and do something. I partnered with an American woman, Elizabeth Davis, to set up the Akilah Institute to offer women of ages 18 to 30 diplomas in entrepreneurship and hospitality management.'

Not only did Akilah's numbers grow to 160 students, the working partnership between the two grew into love, and the pair is getting married later this year.

Also, a genuine love for Rwanda was forged, and that is what led to the nation's team coming to the Sevens.

'I was cruising through Rwanda one day and I saw some people playing rugby with a Shanghai Hairy Crabs rugby ball,' says Hughes. 'It made me curious, so I contacted the team in Shanghai when I got back to Hong Kong and found that they had donated some kit.'

Hughes then got the Hong Kong community in on the act of donating rugby kit, too, with the help of his childhood neighbour Ruth Mitchell, now a prominent and active member of the HKRFU.

From that small acorn, the Rwandan rugby scene has grown mightily. In just three years, playing ranks have swelled by a factor of five from 200 players to 1,000. The number of schools offering the game have trebled from five to 15. And the number of teams has more than doubled from five to 12 including a women's team, under-16's, under-18's, under-21's and an elite team.

And, from having zero overseas playing experience, the national team have undertaken trips to Kenya and Burundi as well as Hong Kong.

Hughes has organised to bring the Rwandan team to Hong Kong in Sevens week for the past three years. 'It costs US$25,000 to bring the team here,' Hughes says. 'The benefactor is IP Global. They sponsored us this year so all credit goes to them for helping to get the finances sorted.'

The Rwanda team's presence at the Hong Kong Sevens has changed many lives. The exposure from their presence here has led to an anonymous benefactor giving a considerable sum. Through contributions like that and Hughes' dedication, players have got education, jobs, overseas rugby experience and, most importantly, hope.

Hughes is Hong Kong born and lives here, but will be moving to Rwanda to establish a new life and to continue his efforts as a coach and as honorary director of the Rwanda Rugby Federation. But he will continue to bring the team back for the Sevens each year.

May the Force be with him.