Asia Tour: rugby fun in Hong Kong

a group photo after trying wheelchair rugby at the Hong Kong Sevens in 2017

Hong Kong may have been the final leg of our Asia tour but it was by far the busiest!

A couple of days after arriving, my first fulfilment as ambassador for the Hong Kong Rugby Union was to introduce a few people to wheelchair rugby as part of the Community Foundation’s “Tackling Barriers Through Sport” initiative.

After an inclusive session with Kowloon RFC’s Social and Community initiatives, a few other ambassadors, including rugby legends Waisale Serevi, Ben Gollings and Jean de Villiers, decided to jump in chairs and give wheelchair rugby a go alongside some disabled athletes.

Hong Kong’s vision for sport

So many people got involved and saw first-hand what the game had to offer. And the Hong Kong Rugby Union and Chief Executive Officer Robbie McRobbie make all this possible. Their vision to make rugby a more inclusive game in Asia is fantastic to see. Hopefully over the next few years we’ll see more forms of the game excel in Hong Kong and beyond.

Later that week I spoke at the HKRU’s Value of Sport Luncheon about how sport helped me overcome adversity. I opened the event, co-organised with the Consulate-General of New Zealand in Hong Kong. We then heard from Ireland international Trevor Ringland, who explained how sport can bring together divided communities:

“I can stand before you and say I have united the whole people of Ireland through sport,” Trevor said. “Because when I scored a try against England in the mid-1980s, in the prison in Northern Ireland that housed paramilitary prisoners from both sides, both wings of the prison cheered.

“And three years later when an English winger scored three tries against me the people of Ireland were united again in saying, ‘Get rid of him, he’s useless!’”

We then heard from Saracens greats Neil de Kock and Charlie Hodgson about their club’s young offenders programme. This uses the sport to help prevent young people from returning to prison.

More international sports stars and ambassadors for Laureus, including Sean Fitzpatrick, de Villiers, Andrew Merthens, Li Xiaopeng and Sir Steve Redgrave followed with their own stories and experiences about how sport can bring together divided communities.

Laureus ambassadors talk about tackling adversity through sport

Impassioned and unique

All were unique and equally impassioned. De Villiers shared memories of feeling his country came together for the first time after South Africa won the Rugby World Cup in 1995. Merthens explained how he believes there is a place for everyone in rugby who wants to give it a go.

It was an incredible morning and reaffirmed my views (not that this was needed!) that sport is about far more than stepping onto a field of play until the final whistle.

On the first day of the 7s I spoke at the famous Long Lunch. I then headed to Hong Kong Stadium to enjoy some rugby for the weekend. Countless people I met make the tournament a force to be reckoned with worldwide.

Our time in Hong Kong finished with a talk with HKRU’s staff. It was a great opportunity to say goodbye and thank everyone who had helped us over the past few days.

I felt truly privileged to be an ambassador for the tournament alongside some true rugby greats; many of whom I’d looked up to when I was still playing their version of the game!

We’re back in the UK now. After so many incredible experiences, it’ll hardly come as a surprise that we’re busy planning our next trip to Asia. Watch this space!

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