Rugby union wins access to Hong Kong Sports Institute
Elite status at SI means members of the city's squad can look forward to competing against world's best on an almost equal footing
"The sky's the limit" for Hong Kong who will be able to keep pace with professional teams on the international stage, say leading officials after the Hong Kong Sports Institute opened its doors to rugby sevens.
The entry of the only team sport at the elite training academy - there are 15 other disciplines from athletics to wushu - was welcomed by the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, which called it a historic moment for the sport.
It will now have access to government funds for the next four years, with about HK$5 million available annually for athletes only.
"We have come a long way and this is the icing on the cake," said delighted Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman Trevor Gregory. "It is a fantastic achievement to become the only team sport at elite level. The sky is the limit for us now."
HKRFU head of performance and national coach Dai Rees added: "This is a historic moment for the game in Hong Kong. We can now offer an opportunity to promising players to become full-time professional athletes, which will help us keep pace with other professional teams in Asia like Japan, as well as with sevens teams on the international stage, more and more of whom are contracting players on a full-time basis."
Rugby sevens' bid to become an elite sport won approval from the government's Sports Commission thanks to a run of impressive results, including medals at the Asian Games, East Asian Games and Asian championships at both senior and junior level.
Hong Kong's men are not only the Asian champions but have also qualified for the World Cup Sevens in Moscow in June.
"The success of rugby sevens is a reflection of the excellent high-performance approach of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union to athlete development," Sports Institute chief executive Trisha Leahy said. "And I hope this will be an encouragement to other team sports to achieve similar results to be able to access [resources at] the Hong Kong Sports Institute."
The elite sports are evaluated every two years based on results from both senior and junior levels. With rugby sevens assured of being a medal sport at the next two Olympic Games, a long-term programme can be set in place.
The HKRFU will be entitled to full access for its athletes' needs, including accommodation, sports science and medicine, educational support funding, high-performance coaching, training and competition.
Senior athletes who opt to become full-time could receive a monthly allowance as high as HK$32,000.
"One of the best parts of the programme is it will allow us to create a more complete framework for development," Rees said.