Salom Yiu hopes HKSI status will attract more locals to rugby
Hong Kong star expects standing with institute to encourage more children to play
Salom Yiu Kam-shing is hoping rugby sevens' new full-time status at the Hong Kong Sports Institute will convince more local families to encourage their children to take up the sport.
In a sport seen by most in Hong Kong as a "gweilo game", Yiu has been flying the flag for local players since bursting on to the scene in 2009.
True or not, the cliché is most local families prefer their children to pursue professions and academics rather than sport - but with Hong Kong's sevens players now fully professional thanks to winning elite status at the institute, Yiu hopes parents will be convinced that rugby is a valid career option.
"Hopefully now that we're full-time we can build up the team and let the locals see that, 'Ah, rugby is famous and you can build a career'," said Yiu, 26.
"Also it should be good even for part-time players - those at primary and secondary schools previously might not have got support, but now [those players] can get money and support.
"Hopefully, it will encourage a lot more locals to play rugby."
Yiu, who grew up in Guangdong before moving to Hong Kong as a 10-year-old, admitted: "Before I played rugby my parents didn't support me to play sport at all. When I took up rugby they were angry. 'What is it?' they said.
"They thought the game was all contact, contact, contact, 'You'll get injured'. I know they just wanted to protect me, but I had to let them know I can build a role for myself in sport, and the sport has let me change a lot.
"First in the East Asian Games and Asian Games when they saw me on TV, then they went, 'Ohhh ...' and changed their opinion and started to support me."
The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union has been proactive in its efforts to get more local kids involved in rugby, donating HK$13 million last year to local schools for facilities, and Hong Kong took gold in the Asian Youth Games at Nanjing last year, with the chance to repeat the feat at the Youth Olympics in the same city this summer.
Though the likes of Cado Lee Ka-to, Kwok Ka-chun and Tsang Hing-hung have also been key players for Hong Kong, the latter two making the Sevens squad, Yiu has been the "local face" for several years, and hopes to inspire more youngsters to follow his path after he broke into the team just three years after picking up the oval ball for the first time.
"I do feel like a role model, I want them to know that locals can be rugby players as well - not just gweilo.
"I know some locals are scared of tackling and look at the gweilo and think, 'So big, can't tackle you'. But before I played rugby, I was so small and scared - you just need to get over that.
"I'm sharing a lot for them. Hopefully I can inspire a few, that's why I like doing interviews and sharing my experience."
Yiu and the rest of Hong Kong's full-time players have only been training at the institute since the turn of the year, but he says improvements are being felt ahead of the Sevens.
"We've noticed the difference in fitness and we have been focusing so much more on individual and team skills and they've definitely improved a lot.
"I was coaching part-time as well as playing but Dai Rees told me, 'Give that up because I want you to focus completely on playing now'. It's a great opportunity for us to be professionals and really focus on our rugby."