Hong Kong goes global as rugby sevens talent search hots up
Sports Institute to launch international hunt for team of coaches while domestic quest to identify development players intensifies
Sixty players are being identified for the first intake of the rugby sevens programme at the Hong Kong Sports Institute, which will also undergo a global search for a team of coaches next week.
With between HK$5 million and HK$8 million in government funding available annually, rugby sevens will take a massive step forward with officials from the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union and the Sports Institute aiming to get the programme underway by September.
The focus is two-pronged - identifying the athletes by the end of August and assembling full-time coaching staff including a head coach, and individual coaches for the men's elite squad, the women's elite squad and the junior elite squad.
The HKRFU will this weekend talk to its men's and women's squad and underline the benefits of joining the Sports Institute either as a full-time scholarship athlete or a part-timer.
And next week the hunt for the coaching staff will begin in earnest with advertisements being placed in local media and other international outlets.
The head coach and his team will report directly to their employers, the Sports Institute, but the HKRFU will have a role to play also. A senior rugby official said everything was pointing towards a smooth relationship.
"We have had a number of meetings with the Sports Institute since we were accepted in April as an elite sport and the partnership is off to a sound start," said HKRFU head of performance Dai Rees.
"The first objectives are to put in place the coaching team as well as to identify the players who will be involved in the programme. We have a pretty good idea on the latter but we hope to nail it down soon."
Trisha Leahy, chief executive of the Sports Institute, was unavailable for comment as she is away on leave.
Rees revealed the HKRFU was talking to 15 players in the men's senior team, as well as 14 senior women and about 30 junior athletes who have potential.
"All the senior players need to have represented Hong Kong over the past two years, and we have a pretty good idea who will be involved as most of them are already part of the Sports Institute's Individual Athlete Support Scheme [IASS]," Rees said.
Hong Kong winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing, a beneficiary of the IASS, has already stated he would turn full time once the programme is up and running.
Rugby sevens has been on the radar since the men's squad won silver medals at the 2009 East Asian Games as well as the Asian Games in Guangzhou the following year.
Last year the men's team were crowned Asian champions for the first time.
The sport's inclusion is set to dramatically increase the number of full-time athletes at the Sports Institute which next week will have its soft opening after the HK$1.8 billion redevelopment.
It supports around 200 full-time athletes, mostly from the 15 elite sports (with rugby, this number will be 16), as well as a small number from the 11 sports under the IASS.
Last year the government increased its funding to the elite academy by 32 per cent to HK$280 million.
It is understood the figure has gone up to more than HK$300 million for this financial year.