Hong Kong can be part of a ‘massively exciting moment’ in wheelchair rugby, says three-time Paralympian Andy Barrow

The former British captain says city has all the resources to join a movement that’s spreading across Asia as he encourages people to give the sport a go

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 April, 2017, 6:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2017, 9:25am

Former British captain and three-time Paralympian Andy Barrow has encouraged Hong Kong to embrace the disabled game, saying the city could be part of a “massively exciting moment” for the sport in the region.

Barrow is pleased that the Hong Kong Rugby Union has plans to launch wheelchair rugby, one of the medal sports at the Paralympic Games, as the sport begins to take root in Asia. Barrow said Hong Kong would be the perfect place to launch the sport because of the resources the city has to offer and because of the game’s popularity at all levels here.

“Wheelchair rugby is developing across the world. It’s being spread as a game and more and more countries are taking a liking to it,”said Barrow, who is in Hong Kong as an ambassador of the sport. “There are more formally developed nations further east such as Japan and South Korea who have established the sport.The sport is already taking root in Southeast Asia, in countries such as Singapore and Thailand, where there’s a strong Paralympic movement. I think it’s a really exciting time for Hong Kong to follow the sport’s lead, especially with the resources we have here.”

Wheelchair rugby is played on a hardwood court with four players from each team. Players score by carrying the ball across the goal line. It was a demonstration sport at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics before becoming a medal sport at the 2000 Sydney Games.

With next year’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics both being held in Asia, Barrow said Hong Kong should capitalise on the opportunity by getting wheelchair rugby off the ground here.

“It always takes one game in the region to come on people’s radar,” said Barrow, who retired after the 2012 London Paralympics and is now working as an inspirational speaker and mentor.

Robbie McRobbie, deputy chief executive of the union, said it might be too “ambitious” if they set up a team for the Tokyo Paralympics.

“We had discussions with the Paralympic Committee about starting a programme and they have been very supportive,” said the official. “We sent someone to a coaching course in Bali this year and we are also happy to have Barrow here to help raise the profile of wheelchair rugby. Hopefully we can start the programme this year.

“The Paralympic Committee and the government have a good network of people who are wheelchair athletes and the success of rugby in the community can be a platform to generate participation. But we won’t tell them to stop playing their sports such as basketball or fencing. We only want to encourage people to give wheelchair rugby a try.”

Lesley Fung Sau-kuen, chief executive of Hong Kong Paralympic Committee, has offered to help set up wheelchair rugby, while Jason Yeung Kwok-fu, a former wheelchair basketball player, said the feeling of the game was “very good” during a trial at Chater Garden on Tuesday and would give wheelchair rugby a go if given a chance.