Hong Kong Sevens

Plain sailing for HKRFU's new general manager

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 July, 2011, 12:00am

Everything must be ship-shape in the oval world as the most pressing problem for new Hong Kong Rugby Football Union general manager Ian McMahon is how to remain cool in the sweltering heat. Two months into the job, and the Englishman has still not come to terms with the midday sun.

'Biggest problem I have faced so far? How to get from here to Central in AC comfort, or what suit to wear in this heat,' jokes McMahon, sitting cool as you like in the refurbished and air-conditioned offices of the HKRFU inside Olympic House.

Brought in to fill the shoes of a predecessor who vacated his office unexpectedly, one would expect the hot seat to be sizzling with tension. But there are no signs of pressure etched on McMahon's face.

'Hong Kong rugby is in a healthy state, nothing worries me,' says McMahon. 'But we have lots of goals for the future, although it is too early to be specific about them for I'm still meeting people and analysing things. But one thing I'm certain of, there won't be any radical changes to what's happening.'

With record assets of HK$209 million, the HKRFU is, next to the Jockey Club, the richest sporting organisation in town and the envy of many leading rugby governing bodies around the world. On the playing front, the Hong Kong team are second to Japan in Asia and ranked 27th in the world. Playing numbers from mini to tertiary, men, women and children, are all increasing. More facilities are coming on board. The Hong Kong Sevens is massively successful. It's a rosy picture.

The only danger, it seems, is one of complacency.

McMahon, 46, is well aware of that as he goes about his first major task since taking office on May 9 - authoring a new strategic plan for 2012-16 that is set to come out by the end of the year.

'Everywhere you look, we have seen progress. We have to continue to grow the game, but at the same time set realistic goals and objectives,' said McMahon, a former chief executive of rugby and soccer clubs in England and the United States.

Among the goals set in the last strategic plan was winning a medal at the 2010 Asian Games - one which Hong Kong achieved with the men's sevens team winning a silver medal after losing to Japan in the final.

Asked if qualifying for the 2013 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games is in the new plan, McMahon said: 'We would love to qualify for both, but we will keep an open mind. I will be sitting down with our performance department soon and talking about what we hope to achieve but I will be keeping an open mind on this aspect, as in everything else.

'As a national union, the aim is always to play at the highest level but at the same time we have to realise we are not Japan and we don't have full-time players.'

Talk of going down the route of offering players contracts - something which the HKRFU dabbled with briefly a few seasons ago - is also received with an air of equanimity by McMahon, whose experience in England included stints as head of Doncaster Rovers FC and Oldham Rugby League Football Club, as well as managing director of Hull City.

'It would be a big jump to go from being part-time to full-time. Financially, it will be hard to sustain and it will also be difficult player-commitment wise. I don't think we will be making any radical moves right now,' he said.

There also won't be any radical moves as far as the Hong Kong Sevens is concerned, although McMahon said the continued quest 'to make the experience better for players and fans' would continue.

As a youngster McMahon played rugby before switching to soccer and rugby league. 'I might have a chance running out for the Pot Bellied Pigs next season,' he laughed.