Local talent holds key to greater on-field success, says new Hong Kong Rugby Union president Peter Duncan

The New Zealander replaces Brian Stevenson in the role and is ‘honoured’ to be in the job after a 16-year hiatus

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 November, 2016, 6:06pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 November, 2016, 8:54pm

Convincing the local population that rugby and education can compliment each other will help Hong Kong reach greater on-field heights, says new union president Peter Duncan.

Duncan, a New Zealander, was first involved with the union as Hong Kong’s coach in the 1970s and has served various other roles since, including two stints as chairman – first for a year in 1988 and then for four years from 1997.

While he is still settling into his new role after taking over from the outgoing Brian Stevenson in August, Duncan acknowledges that keeping the best young players in the game is crucial.

Over time, retaining talent has been an issue in Hong Kong, with expat students heading elsewhere to study and pursue their rugby careers.

While the full-time professional sevens and 15s programmes on offer have seen this slow in recent times, the local population’s heavy emphasis on academic success remains a stumbling block.

“I think what we have got to do, I think we have always recognised this, but we have always struggled to pull it off, is to persuade the local population that study and sport are not mutually exclusive,” Duncan said.

“That to bring up a well-rounded, well-academically achieving child does not rule out sport in the midst of that.

“The professional environment adds to the list of things [we can offer] and I think the best the union can do is present these opportunities and articulate to young kids and their parents the opportunities which exist through rugby.”

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Before a 16-year hiatus from the union after his second tenure as chairman, Duncan was heavily involved in developing the game.

This included a stint in the lead up to the handover when “we could see that if there weren’t some changes brought about Hong Kong rugby would basically die after 1997”.

He says that Hong Kong can be very proud of its mini rugby, having watched local involvement increase over time and general participation continue to grow.

“It’s well organised and I think it gives young rugby players as good an opportunity to develop their game as you will get anywhere in the world,” he said.

Duncan admits the availability of facilities dictate to a degree how quickly the game can continue growing at grassroots level.

A lawyer by trade, Duncan is happy feeling his way around during his first months in the job and is pleased with the current state of the union.

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“I have full confidence in the present board, they seem to be doing a fine job,” he said.

“I am in the process of meeting directors to try and understand what their objectives and aspirations are and to see whether there are any particular areas where I might be able to contribute a little more.”

Duncan first moved to Hong Kong in 1973 after previously coming to the city on the way to Japan as a player with the New Zealand Universities side.

He says he is “honoured by the opportunity” to be president and is thrilled to be back involved.

“Rugby is in my blood,” he said.

“I’m always interested in what’s going on and if I’ve got nothing else to do, which is not very often, I’ll always be down on a Saturday watching a game of some sort.

“My grandchildren are now playing rugby in Hong Kong so I always watch them.”

Looking forward, Duncan has a clear view on what is needed to ensure continued off-field progress.

“I think it [the expansion of the union] has been pretty much linked to the success of the sevens, because the sevens has provided the wherewithal to get involved in other things,” he said.

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“We have to maintain the sevens at a certain level because that’s the lifeblood of maintaining the structure of the union as it is now.”

Just how to continue growing something that is already such a success is one of the challenges ahead for Duncan.

“I think it has got to continue to grow in that it maintains relevance and people still want to come,” he said.

“That’s what I regard as growth. The stadium has been full for years, but if you came 10 years go and watched the event, it was different from what it was last year.”

Duncan sees plenty of positives in the eventual move to the Kai Tak Sports Hub, but admits that too will bring its challenges, just like decisions to join the sevens series and move from the Hong Kong Football Club to the government stadium did.

Already there are questions about the impact another venue shift will have on the tournament, as there have been around previous moves.

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“I’m not sure Kai Tak is going to end up with a facility that is much greater than what we’ve got, I think we are talking about 50,000 and we will soak that up fairly easily,” Duncan said.

“But the mere fact we are going to a different venue will create more challenges, but more opportunities as well. We stamped our identity on this stadium [Hong Kong Stadium].

“You have just got to take these opportunities and you have got to say ‘okay there is change coming’ and you have just got to capitalises on it.”