rio olympics

Dream come true for Hong Kong referee Gabriel Lee Wing-yi as she is selected for Olympics rugby

Immigration officer named on 12-strong panel as rugby returns to the Games

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 April, 2016, 11:17am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 June, 2016, 4:51am

Hong Kong referee Gabriel Lee Wing-yi is going to the Olympics after she was named by World Rugby on the panel of officials for the women’s sevens competition in Rio.

It’s the latest honour for the 34-year-old immigration officer, who has been a member of World Rugby’s elite women’s referees panel and has officiated at the Asian Games, the 2009 and 13 Women’s Rugby Sevens World Cups and on the World Sevens Series.

She is joined by Japan’s Sakurako Kawasaki as the only Asian refs on the 12-strong Olympics women’s panel.

Lee’s greatest achievement to date had been taking charge of the 2009 World Cup final, but she says “the Olympics will definitely be bigger”.

“As a local referee, I’m really happy to be part of the Olympics. I work here [in Hong Kong], I’ve grown up here, I’ve learned my rugby and my refereeing here,” she said.

“To get myself ready for the Olympics, I’ll be watching videos [of past matches] and improving my fitness. I hope I can referee to the best of my ability.”

Rugby will be played at the Olympics for the first time since 1924 this summer.

It’s the culmination of a long-held dream for Lee, who told the SCMP in 2011: “My main target is the Olympics, I want to be part of that. I guess I’ve got a good chance now and I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”

In the build-up to Rio, Lee has a women’s tournament in May, then in June will referee at the women’s Olympic repechage and be an assistant ref in the men’s repechage.

As a local referee, I’m really happy to be part of the Olympics. I work here [in Hong Kong], I’ve grown up here, I’ve learned my rugby and my refereeing here
Gabriel Lee

Hugh Watkins, the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s head of match officiating, said: “Gabby has put in a huge amount of hard work on the training pitch to improve her fitness and has been in top condition for all of the sevens tournaments she has done.

“It is a dream fulfilled for Gabby and she has worked extremely hard at this for the past five years. She has now set a benchmark for all of the referees in Hong Kong to aspire to.

“It is a massive lift to the refereeing side of the game for Gabby to be appointed to the Olympics and continues a rising feelgood factor amongst match officiating in Hong kong on top of the increasing number of young referees taking up the whistle in Hong Kong.

“It is a real pat on the back for the local involvement of the game and we are all extremely proud of Gabby. It will be an incredible honour for both her and her family.”

John Jeffrey, chairman of World Rugby’s match official selection committee, said in a statement: “I wish to send my congratulations to the men and women selected to referee at the Olympic Games this year.

“It is the culmination of incredibly hard work over many years and, under the leadership of sevens referee manager Paddy O’Brien, they can go on to represent their unions and World Rugby on the biggest sporting stage of them all.

“Of course now is about preparing well so they can perform to their best on that stage and with the eyes of the sporting world upon them.”