Hong Kong took another step towards their goal of Olympic and World Series qualification with the announcement of the elite programme at the Hong Kong Sports Institute
Forty Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) athletes have been inducted into the Union’s first ever Elite Rugby Sevens athletes programme at the Hong Kong Sports Institute.
The HKRFU became the first Hong Kong team sport inducted into the Sports Institute in April 2013. The intervening months have seen the HKRFU select its inductees while several employed athletes have been in discussion with their employers to obtain sabbaticals to pursue their dreams of becoming full-time professional rugby athletes.
The forty-member HKRFU squad at the Hong Kong Sports Institute (HKSI) comprises 14 full-time men’s rugby sevens athletes and eight part-time men’s athletes. Of the 18 female athletes, 11 are full-time and seven are part-time. Both the Hong Kong men’s and women’s sevens captains, Jamie Hood and Royce Chan Leong Sze, have joined the HKSI programme on a full-time basis.
The men’s list is a who’s who of HKRFU National Sevens squad members with the full-time intake featuring Jamie Hood, Rowan Varty, Salom Yiu Kam Shing, Alex McQueen, Tom McQueen, Nick Hewson, Lee Jones, Ben Rimene, Max Woodward, Raef Morrison, Josh Peters, Adam Rolston, Chris Maize and Jack Capon – all of whom have represented Hong Kong at senior sevens squad level in the past year.
The men’s part-time athletes include Anthony Haynes, Simon Leung Ho Yam, Kwok Ka Chun, Tsang Hing Hung, Fan Shun Kei, Adam Raby, Cado Lee and Keith Robertson.
“The players’ employers have been very supportive of our aims and objectives,” said Dai Rees, HKRFU Head of Technical Development and Performance, noting that several of the players have been granted sabbaticals for pursuing their rugby dreams – including the drive to qualify for rugby sevens’ debut at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The women’s intake sees sevens regulars Royce Chan, Christy Cheng Ka Chi, Cheng Tsz Ting, Christine Gordon, Colleen Tjosvold, Amelie Seure, Lai Pou Fan, Lindsay Varty, Natasha Olson-Thorne, Rose Fong Siu-Lan and Sham Wai Sum in the full-time athlete programme. Emmy Chan Hoi Ping, Daniella Means, Ivy Kwong Sau Yan, Melody Li Nim Yan, Nam Ka Man, Aggie Poon Pak Yan and Yuen Lok Yee are enrolled on a part-time basis.
Rowan and Lindsay Varty and Tom and Alex McQueen are all enrolled on a full-time basis, becoming the first full-time professional rugby athlete siblings in Hong Kong Rugby history.
Solicitor and former Men’s Sevens captain Rowan Varty has put his legal career on hold to pursue his dream of representing Hong Kong in the Olympics.
Varty commented on joining the HKSI saying, “I had just finished my two-year training period at Tanner DeWitt. The expiration of my training period coincided with the establishment of the HKSI programme and Tanner DeWitt was very accommodating in allowing me to transition to a part-time basis.
“It could have been quite a difficult decision for me, but it was made very easy by Tanner DeWitt, who have allowed me to carry on part-time. It wasn’t a tough decision at the end but I’m glad that I made it.
“I have spent the whole of my adult life playing for this team and I wasn't about to give up when we really made the push for full-time status. I think this is my 10th year with the team and this has been the first time we really committed as a team to going full-time,” Varty added.
He has already seen marked improvement in the team through the HKSI programme.
“It is definitely the right move for us to join the HKSI. It is the only way that we could have pushed on and improved. As much as we like to think that we were getting the most out of being part-time and treating the game with a professional approach, we are miles ahead of where we were six months ago, simply because of being full-time.
“As a Sevens team we are probably now up there amongst the top handful of teams in terms of what facilities we have at our disposal. I think we must be in the top two or three teams in the world in terms of what we have available. The facilities at the Sports Institute are unbelievable,” said Varty.
The 40 Hong Kong rugby athletes at the HKSI will now receive special training and financial support to enhance their competitiveness on the international stage. The HKSI Rugby Sevens programme is structured along an initial four-year term with a review after two years with success contingent on the teams’ meeting or exceeding their competitive performance targets.
“Being an elite sport at the HKSI allows us to create a more complete framework for development in local rugby. The support of the HKSI reinforces and adds value to our existing comprehensive development programmes at the HKRFU while the funding allocated for sevens will free up financial resources that can be devoted to supporting our fifteen-aside programme for men and women and to nurturing and developing talented junior athletes,” said Dai Rees.
The professional support provided to Hong Kong’s elite rugby sevens athletes will help Hong Kong close the gap on their international opposition, most of which at the elite end are also full-time rugby athletes, with an ultimate goal of representing Asia at the 2016 Games in Brazil.
In the short-term, the athletes will be focusing on the HSBC Sevens World Series qualification tournament which will be held at next March’s Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.
Hong Kong qualified for the tournament by virtue of its finish in the top two in Asia from the 2013 HSBC Asian Sevens Series, finishing as runners-up to Japan. Hong Kong will now participate in the 12-team international qualifier, (two teams from each of the International Rugby Board’s six international regions). The winner of the HSBC SWS qualifier will earn automatic qualification as a core team on the 2014/15 HSBC Sevens World Series.