Asian Games medal inspires Hong Kong rugby star Ben Rimene to surrender his New Zealand passport
The 33-year-old fly half wants no regrets as he banks on a big few years for local rugby
Rimene has been in Hong Kong over nine years and is a key figure in the city’s 15s and sevens sides.
“My thoughts were ‘I could maybe never move back to New Zealand again’, I don’t know,” Rimene said.
“We might qualify for the Olympics and if I can’t play people will ask ‘why?’, and I would have to say that I didn’t give up my passport.
“When it first came about a few years ago, I wasn’t actually eligible for permanent residency, so I didn’t have to think about it.
“I’ve always been ‘I’ll worry about it later’ instead of having regrets now. I thought I may as well do it and if worst comes to worst, I’ll have to go and live in New Zealand for five years to get it back.”
The 33-year-old is in the process of obtaining a Hong Kong passport so he can compete in next month’s Games in Indonesia, meaning he missed the first leg of Hong Kong’s World Cup qualifier against the Cook Islands.
However, he will make the trip to San Francisco for next week’s Rugby World Cup Sevens.
“I’m in the process of renouncing my passport so I had no passport,” he said about his missed trip to Rarotonga.
“I’m on an emergency passport at the moment, I’m going to San Francisco. That’s the one trip I can do.”
While Hong Kong will be up against it to progress past the first round in San Francisco as the World Cup takes on a new format, it is the Asian Games that has Rimene salivating.
“Someone told me it’s the second biggest sporting event in the world behind the Olympics as far as the amount of competitors,” he said.
“I grew up watching the Commonwealth Games and I guess it’s the Commonwealth Games of Asia.
“The boys have medalled the last few times they’ve been so there is a good chance of a medal and it’s important for the [funding of the] programme [at the Sports Institute] and for the whole rugby community in Hong Kong.”
Rimene, who says he could be in Hong Kong for “another nine years”, is entrenched in the city and runs a personal training business with teammate Lee Jones, while his long-term partner is Hong Kong netball and rugby representative Stephanie Cuvelier.
The fly half has high hopes for what is to come for Hong Kong and on a personal level, despite being on the wrong side of 30.
“Originally I wasn’t sure how long I might play for, but there is a new squad of players, I’m one of the leaders of the group and we want to get us to that next level,” he said.
The prospect of playing in a 15s World Cup is becoming very real, with only a repechage against Canada and likely Germany and Kenya standing between Hong Kong and a berth at Japan 2019.
“We’re literally three games away from playing in a World Cup,” he said. “I assume if you saw all those teams on paper people would think Canada are the favourites.
“But from what I’ve seen in the squad, the boys have been together for quite a while now and everyone is getting a little bit older so there is a lot of older boys driving the standards.”