Hong Kong Rugby Union chairman Pieter Schats predicts seismic shift as HSBC Try Rugby programme launches

Ex-Fiji coach Ben Ryan on hand as three-year initiative kicks off with aim to bring sevens to 50,000 primary school students within first 12 months

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 February, 2017, 9:07pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 February, 2017, 10:48pm

The HSBC Try Rugby programme represents a seismic shift not only for rugby sevens in Hong Kong but also for children here in general, says Hong Kong Rugby Union chairman Pieter Schats.

HSBC, the HKRU and the Education University of Hong Kong are teaming up to deliver the three-year programme, which is expected to reach 50,000 primary school students in its first 12 months.

Launched on Monday, the programme will see physical education teachers armed with the knowledge and equipment necessary to introduce sevens rugby into primary schools.

“If you can get the teachers to understand the basics and then introduce it to students, I think it’s huge,” Schats said.

“It’s a seismic shift in terms of what this could potentially deliver for the sport and Hong Kong kids.”

The initiative follows sevens’ explosion onto the world stage at last year’s Rio Olympics and comes as the sport continues to gain popularity across the globe.

The programme will begin immediately at SKH St James’ Primary School in Wanchai, the home of Monday’s launch, and PE teachers at EdUHK will receive training from the start of the 2017-18 academic year.

Training will also be offered to existing teachers and the programme will teach students the values of rugby, as well as promoting a healthy and active lifestyle.

“The approach of the teaching kit is based on the development needs of school children,” said Daniel Chow, the head of the department of health and physical education at EdUHK.

“It’s designed to develop children’s physical fitness and we are trying to equip students with basic motor functions and basic movement skills.”

The HKRU will facilitate the programme within schools and the aim is to make sevens accessible to all by ensuring it can be taught in small spaces, like a basketball court.

“We felt after the success of Rio that we had a duty in Hong Kong to make sure that we could create a pathway for young kids to learn and understand rugby sevens,” said Giles Morgan, HSBC’s global head of sponsorship and events.

Former Fiji coach Ben Ryan backs partnership between HKRU and Education University of Hong Kong

A recent survey commissioned in Hong Kong by HSBC shows that while 78 per cent of parents would want their kids to play rugby if it was offered, the sport was taught in only 27 per cent of the schools attended by those parents’ children.

“There is a high awareness of rugby but people aren’t really participating,” Morgan said. “We felt there was a wonderful opportunity to get the local kids started in rugby sevens.”

Schats is confident the initiative will play a big role in expanding the player base here and therefore strengthening Hong Kong’s chances of one day qualifying for the Olympics, but he is also taking a wider view.

“Winning and getting results at the top end is important, but I think the bigger picture is that we are going to have kids associated with the sport that are going to become better people for it,” he said.

“Trying to get to the highest level is a great goal and hopefully we get there, but if we don’t I think we would have built a pathway of long-term sustainability for the game in Hong Kong.”

Q&A: Ben Ryan on life after becoming an Olympic legend – and Fijian chief – as coach of the island’s gold-medal rugby team

Ben Ryan, who led Fiji to Olympic gold last year, was on hand at the launch and likened the facilities on offer here to those in Fiji, where many kids learn the game on concrete surfaces.

“There is absolutely no reason why somebody that is involved in Try Rugby can’t come through and represent Hong Kong in the Olympics,” he said.

“Even if they don’t make it they are going to be part of this amazing sport that is synonymous with Hong Kong.”