The captain of the Hong Kong Sevens team that made it to the Bowl final this year, Rowan Varty chats to Andrea Lo about his career in rugby, his day job as a lawyer, being a Hong Kong citizen—and why partying at the Sevens is essential.
I was born in London. I grew up in Hong Kong, went on to Nottingham University to study law and then I came back and did my postgrad at the University of Hong Kong.
Both my parents grew up in Hong Kong, and they flew to London so that I could be born [there]. They weren’t sure what would happen after the handover. My mom had a Hong Kong passport at the time and my dad has a British passport.
They were worried that I would be one of the people who were left without a Hong Kong or a British passport—maybe just a BNO or something.
It’s ironic that my parents went through all that effort, and then I worked for about a year to try to get a Hong Kong passport and give up my British one.
I wanted a Hong Kong passport so that I could compete in the Olympics. Myself and a couple others [on the team] have done it. It’s a shame that it’s not easier. We are Hong Kong people—our parents were born in Hong Kong and we have lived here our whole lives. We’re gweilos but we’re not really foreign.
In order for us to nationalize and get a Hong Kong passport, we need to go through the same process as someone who has never lived here. That’s the sad thing.
It’s quite an unusual way of doing things—I think most other countries would take into consideration people having lived in the country for a long time.
My best childhood memory was when my parents took my sister Lindsay and I to a village house in Sai Kung. It was pretty primitive; there was no electricity. Lindsay and I hated it every year. We had to make our own fun, and we went exploring and fishing. Looking back, we were lucky to have done something like that, because otherwise you end up living the expat life in Hong Kong like so many others.
It was really the Hong Kong Sevens tournament itself [that got me into rugby]. My parents took me every year—my birthday was a week before the Sevens. They didn’t really know what to do with me, so they started bringing me along to the tournament when I was a couple of weeks old. I started to go on my own once I was old enough.
When I was eight or nine, I saw the mini rugby kids playing on the field. My friends and I were really jealous. We got to the age where we idolized all the Hong Kong players, and we really wanted to be part of it, even if it meant just getting on the pitch for 10 minutes once a year—it was worth it.
We joined what was then the Kai Tak Tigers—which is now the DeA Tigers—and I’m still playing for that club today.
The first time I became a full-time player was when I left university in 2008. I was contracted to the Rugby Union for one year, along with two others. It was good fun but probably a little premature. We didn’t have a professional team—we just had three professional players. That was a bit odd.
I’m now semi-professional. I work full-time at a law firm, but I also train part-time.
I think I have to take the opportunity to make the most of my rugby career while I can still play. If the chance of getting on to the full-time World Sevens Series circuit came up, it would be hard to turn down. But I have to think about my long-term career as well. You can only play rugby for a certain number of years.
The challenge for me right now is balancing my time, going from training to work to training. And I have to make sure I have enough time to spend with my family and friends. There are also challenges in rugby itself—constantly pushing myself, and getting over the stigma
of not being a professional team.
From my point of view, when we run out on to the pitch, in order for there to be the amount of noise there is, most of the crowd has to be cheering for us.
I think the Hong Kong Sevens has a good balance [between matches and partying]. It started off as a tournament and not a party, and having gone to the Sevens when I was very young, I didn’t experience the party side of it. But part of the tournament is the party.
It’s nice to know that people are there to watch the rugby as well. I appreciate that the majority of people are just there to party, but people watch the games and they remember the ones that matter to them.
I’m joining in with a lot of people to say that it would be nice if more people could get hold of Sevens tickets.
I’ve probably missed out a lot in my life [in order to] play for Hong Kong. I haven’t really lived abroad since university, I haven’t done a lot of the partying that my friends have done, but I don’t regret it.
Playing rugby for Hong Kong is such a special thing. I’ll be the last person to deny myself the chance to play.