Asian Games 2018: Hong Kong rugby sevens stars get passport boost with HK$1.6 million at stake in Jakarta
Hong Kong’s rugby sevens teams given huge financial incentive to bring home Asian Games gold, as more players commit to the cause by obtaining passports
Hong Kong will get a boost at the Asian Games after four players committed their personal and rugby futureby obtaining passports.
Star veteran Ben Rimene was the first to renounce his New Zealand passport in July, ensuring a ticket to Jakarta and the prospect of an Asian Games rugby sevens medal.
Max Denmark, Liam Herbert and Hugo Stiles have since followed suit, helping Hong Kong’s chances of going one better from their silver medal at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. The women’s team finished fourth.
“It gives us 18 to pick from, whereas we only had 12 before. For the boys to make that commitment is huge for us and it’s great to see them make the decision to do that,” men’s coach Paul John said, adding that there are “a couple more in process” who will not make it in time.
“We haven’t put any pressure on them because you can’t. It’s a life decision – a massive one – and they have showed good commitment to staying here and wanting to be part of it.”
The Games’ sevens tournament starts at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium on August 30. Hong Kong’s men’s team face China, Thailand and Pakistan in the group stages, with the women facing China, Singapore and South Korea. The teams will set off for Indonesia next Monday.
And with HK$1.6 million in financial incentives being offered by the Hong Kong Sports Institute (HKSI), Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust and Henderson Land Group – double the amount from Incheon – there is plenty to play for.
“When we heard the news the other day, I was screaming,” said Nam Ka-man.
Nam, who described the China pool match as a must win for the women’s team, added: “It makes us want to try harder and we all know there are other things to play for aside from the medal.”
A team event gold medal earns HK$800,000 from the two award schemes. Silver and bronze would earn HK$400,000 and HK$200,000, respectively.
Men’s team winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing, who recently transitioned back to sevens after helping the 15s team into the 2019 Rugby World Cup play-off repechage, also welcomed the schemes.
“It’s definitely an incentive and this is my objective,” he said. “We just got back from playing high-level opponents so it gives us confidence going into the Games. We have to be confident and look for first place.”
Cado Lee Ka-to, who spent most of last year playing in Japan’s Top League, has his eyes firmly on the silverware.
“I’m focusing on the gold medal but to have a bonus like that is great,” he said of the incentives. “Why is there such a difference between first and second place? There’s a reason why nobody remembers who came second.”
Hong Kong’s toughest opponent is – as usual – Japan, but Lee and coach John believe the team is capable of causing an upset next week.
“You can’t go into a game thinking [Japan] are better than you. I think that’s what happened last time, it felt like it was over before it started. We should be thinking about winning – losing shouldn’t be an option,” said Lee.
“There’s always a chance in sevens and we know we’re capable of it,” said John, adding the team must get up and running early in the pool stage.
“It’s just matter of being able to express ourselves and stop them from playing because the game can switch so quickly if you allow it to.
“The priority for us and HKSI is Asian rugby. The Asian Games has always been in the back of our minds because it’s important for Hong Kong in Asia.”
Hong Kong men’s team: Michael Coverdale, Max Denmark, Liam Herbert, Jamie Hood, Cado Lee Ka-to, Christopher Maize, Alex McQueen, Ben Rimene, Hugo Stiles, Max Woodward, Mark Wright, Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Max Denmark, Liam Herbert.
Hong Kong women’s team: Stephanie Chan Chor-ki, Chan Tsz-ching, Christy Cheng Ka-chi, Chong Ka-yan, Jessica Ho Wai-on, Kwong Sau-yan, Melody Li Nim-yan, Nam Ka-man, Poon Hoi-yan, Poon Pak-yan, Natasha Olson-Thorne, Yuen Lok-yee