Goodbye, Anna Richards, wherever it is you’ve gone and for whatever reason
Departure of the highly acclaimed coach of the Hong Kong women’s sevens team and the surrounding mystery leaves a lot of questions unanswered
It’s two months since the Hong Kong Rugby Union inconspicuously informed the public of the departure of Anna Richards.
A brief article on its website – hardly a hub for news – said Richards had told players and management she would not be continuing in her role as coach of the women’s sevens team past the December end date of her contract.
Of course, the obligatory “thanks for your efforts” was also there, but hardly genuine recognition for the 53-year-old’s work here.
According to the union, its roundabout way of announcing the departure of Richards falls in line with the Hong Kong Sports Institute’s policy of not announcing the departure of employees.
No doubt the fact the sevens programmes are part of the SI ensures there are some hurdles for the union to jump, but for an organisation that sends out press releases about everything and anything, this method of delivery – or non-delivery – came across as very strange.
Perhaps the HKRU wanted to keep quiet the fact that arguably the best female rugby player – a winner of four World Cups with the Black Ferns – wanted out.
That explains the zero contact with the media, but not the two months of silence from Richards herself that has followed.
The union has since said Richards left of her own accord to pursue other options in her coaching career, but there are plenty of people who are adamant she’s been given the axe.
Hong Kong’s position entrenched behind Japan, China and Kazakhstan in Asian sevens doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon and the side did not produce any marked improvement in 2017.
Her silence certainly only gives weight to the suggestion she didn’t leave on her own accord, but the reality is rumours don’t help anyone here and the union should have snuffed them out before they were given a chance to take root.
Maybe she has decided to leave – if that is the case it makes the secrecy all the more baffling – but if she was shown the door, at least front up and tell us.
Either way, the HKRU owes its fans and backers a bit more than simply thanking its charge for her efforts and sealing the case closed.
The public are entitled to more transparency from the SI as well, who put its silence down to not talking publicly about its staff.
The departure of someone of the stature of Richards is not something that should be swept under the rug, not only for her standing in the rugby world but also because the move has the potential to affect the women’s sevens programme heavily.
As a rugby fan in Hong Kong – which is a pretty thankless job at the best of times – I know I’d want a bit more assurance about what lies ahead and how the union plans to move the programme forward.
The union says the process is in motion to find Richards’ replacement, but of course it is. And they’ll arrive with fanfare and optimism regardless of the SI’s policy.
It wasn’t so long ago Gareth Baber went out with a bang when he left Hong Kong to coach reigning Olympic champions Fiji and maybe that’s just it – the union cashing in when the chance arises and keeping its chips in hand when there’s no benefit for the establishment.
With Richards now finished at the SI, it seems her departure can be bundled up with many others from the Hong Kong rugby fraternity – shrouded with at least some level of mystery to all of those outside the inner sanctum.
For what it’s worth, Anna, good luck – wherever it is you’ve gone, to do whatever it is you’re doing and for whatever reason you’ve gone to do it.