Watch a rugby match and you will see one of the most gruelling and physical tests sports can offer. But while it is undeniably a bruising and gritty affair, there are few sports that can match it for integrity and camaraderie. The rugby community is an unfailingly tight knit group with a generous and giving soul – and one need look no further than Hong Kong for proof of that.
The Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) has long played a role in helping to effect positive change in the community. From many of the local teams to the Union’s Community Foundation program, there is a rich and varied history of helping the less fortunate and while extending a welcoming and participatory arm. However, the impact of the rugby community extends far beyond Hong Kong’s border into what may, at least initially, appear to be some of the most unlikeliest places.
Mention the country of Laos, and rugby would not be the first thing that comes to mind. And yet in this landlocked southeast Asian country of 7.2 million, a healthy rugby culture is now emerging and for all the right seasons. According to Lao Rugby Federation (LRF) CEO Viengsamai Souksavanh, the burgeoning rugby scene has been invaluable on a number of levels. “Rugby is not just about learning how to play the sport,” she said. “It also provides opportunities for youth, especially women and girls, to gain leadership and life skills.”
Helping to accommodate that opportunity is where the Hong Kong community, both sporting and corporate, have come in. A co-operation consisting of RedBox Storage, DHL, the HKRU, the Kowloon Rugby Football Club (Kowloon RFC), the Pot Bellied Pigs RFC, DAC Management LLC (DAC), ESF Kennedy School and many others have played an integral role in collecting footwear and equipment to be sent on to Laos. “We’ve had to be more creative generating collections because the pandemic has made it challenging to secure resources for Lao so they can use rugby to facilitate the health and social benefits of organized sport for young people,” said RedBox CEO Tim Alpe. “We are proud to be able to continue our work supporting Lao Rugby and also grateful for the help of the community. It really is a team effort.”
RedBox has been supplying collection bins and storage of new and used sports gear at Kings Park with the support of the HKRU. Kennedy School has also taken ownership of a bin and over the years has collected 2,000 pairs of sports shoes and over 400 rugby balls. "The school’s donation follows several successful fundraisers where students raise funds to adopt a rugby team in rural Laos," said Tim Luck, Kennedy School.
DAC are Platinum Sponsors of the LRF and headline sponsors of Kowloon RFC, whilst Kowloon RFC is a Silver Sponsor. “DAC and Kowloon RFC are pleased to be long time supporters of the LRF and are pleased to see the Hong Kong community support this great work through sponsorship and kit donations,” commented DAC Chairman Phil Groves.
Kowloon RFC have extended their LRF support and have been aiding in the facilitation of donations (www.kowloon-rugby.com/donations) to help cover operating costs so LRF can continue their development and outreach programs,” added Monty Heslop, Kowloon RFC General Manager." In addition to this the club and its members have actively helped co-ordinate kit collections and provided on-line coaching and technical support. This interaction encourages club members to give back to society through the rugby network.
Finally, DHL as a Gold sponsor of the LRF, ensures the shoes, balls and equipment are delivered where they are needed. “DHL has been providing support for the development of children through a variety of rugby initiatives in Laos over the past 10 years. Whenever we are able, DHL are proud to provide transportation and play a role in support of community programs such as the collections organized by local schools, rugby clubs and RedBox,” said DHL Garry Kemp.
Few places are more grateful for the help and generosity than Laos. In the northern provinces of Xieng Khouang, children and youth start to participate in rugby activities through the Champa Ban Youth Rugby activities where they engage in a curriculum that combines life skills acquisition with playing tag rugby. For players who wish to continue play at a higher level, they move on to play with the domestic clubs where they can receive support from accredited coaches specifically trained to teach contact rugby. Thanks to the support from Kowloon RFC and other supporters from Hong Kong, the players and coaches in Laos have been able to grow and pass on skills to younger members of their community.
There are around 3,000 registered rugby players in Laos with women making up close to 55%. Women’s teams from the country have also been grateful for the donations that have allowed them to continue their development and outreach programs. They have travelled to a number of countries for rugby tournaments ranging from Philippines and Singapore to the US and Hong Kong. According to Souksavanh, most of these women would never have had the opportunity to see these international locale if it wasn’t for rugby – as well as the donations from the community at large.
On the heels of Asia successfully hosting the first ever Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019, the profile of the sport has never been higher in the region. And thanks to the efforts of the rugby world, it has resonated in more ways and places than most could have ever thought possible. Playing a pivotal role in positively changing the culture of a country requires contributions from many factions. But while the game of rugby may be played on the pitch, the soul of the sport knows no boundaries.
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About Lao Rugby Federation
The Lao Rugby Federation (LRF) is the governing body for all rugby activities in the Lao PDR and is a full member of Asia Rugby and World Rugby. In addition, the LRF is also registered with the Elite Sports Department under the Lao Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES).
The LRF works to realise the vision of a Lao PDR in which all people have the opportunity to participate in the sport of rugby. LRF activities are focused on developing the sport through school and community development initiatives, supporting domestic and elite teams, and building a sound structure to provide transparent and accountable financial and administrative support to the sport. This can be simplified as: Rugby for all in Laos.
For more information on Lao Rugby Federation, visit www.laorugby.com
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