Massive opportunity for growth in Asia
With the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series returning to Asia next weekend, IRB Women’s Development Manager Su Carty explains how the Game is growing across the region.
Right now girls all over Asia are jumping at the chance to give rugby a try and the IRB’s Get Into Rugby programme is central to making this opportunity a reality. Currently there are more than 12,500 girls playing the Game for the first time in over seven countries across the region.
With 60 per cent of the world’s youth in Asia, the opportunity to grow the sport here is massive. Couple this with the proud sporting and Olympic countries in Asia and you sense the potential for rugby in the region is an achievable dream.
As we look forward to the penultimate round of the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series in Guangzhou, China, the rugby family in Asia are equally tuned in to the development needs on the ground.
For example, the Laos Rugby Union, working with ChildFund, wanted to show that there are more benefits for girls playing rugby than just participating in a sport. They embarked on some research that highlights the benefits for girls who play rugby, including their personal development and leadership skills.
The eyes of the rugby world will be on the renowned Hong Kong Sevens this weekend for what promises to be an enthralling round of the HSBC Sevens World Series, and gives us an opportunity to reflect on Hong Kong's long standing commitment to the development of the women’s Game.
Hong Kong have been at the forefront in the region with IRB Women’s Personality of the Year 2011 Award winner Ruth Mitchell a driving force for the women’s Game in the Union and indeed the region.
Preparation for Guangzhou
And what an opportunity to celebrate this week as all players chosen for the Hong Kong men’s and women’s teams came from the pool of 54 athletes based in the High Performance programme in the world-class facilities of the Hong Kong Sports Institute.
It is exciting to see them now joined by a genuine star of the Game in former Black Fern Anna Richards, who won four Women’s Rugby World Cups with New Zealand. She will make her competitive debut as the Hong Kong women’s coach at this weekend’ invitational tournament.
The annual Hong Kong Women’s Sevens tournament they run alongside the men’s World Series event has grown in popularity over the years and in 2014 features five Asian teams in China, Japan, Kazakhstan, Singapore and the host nation.
The event also provides an opportunity for final preparations for some teams ahead of the Women’s Sevens World Series round in China the following weekend with Brazil, Canada, France, Ireland and China all in action.
They will be joined in Guangzhou by defending champions New Zealand, Australia, Spain, England, Fiji, Russia and USA who will no doubt be putting finishing touches to their preparations for the penultimate round of what has been a thrilling and ultra-competitive Series.
Rugby is certainly capturing the imagination and enthusiasm of people all over China at the moment. A proud Olympic country, they are relishing the opportunity to be a part of Rugby Sevens’ debut at Rio 2016.
Flying the flag in Asia
They have big expectations and are confident they can build on the results they have achieved in recent years. China now have close to their goal of 20 full-time players who are supported by both the Union and the provinces.
Athlete transfer from other sports is central to their programme – and we’ve seen this with other nations with Olympic silver medallist bobsledder Elana Meyers named in USA’s squad for Guangzhou – and in fact half of the players in China’s high performance programme have come from other sports with sprinters and 400m runners featuring heavily.
The importance of maximising this opportunity to grow the sport among young girls has not escaped our friends in China. Get Into Rugby is proving popular in many schools around the country, while Beach Rugby and Touch Rugby are proving particularly effective in attracting girls to the sport.
There is also a commitment to ensuring domestic competition structures are developed to support growth and in May their attention will turn to their National Women's Fifteens Championship, a first for China.
China are not alone in flying the women’s rugby flag in Asia as we saw in the last two rounds of the World Series as Japan showed the strides forward they have taken by reaching the Cup quarter-finals in Atlanta and Sao Paulo.
Kazakhstan, meanwhile, will be turning their attentions to Fifteens after this weekend in Hong Kong as they continue to prepare for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 in France in August. They will be joined in Hong Kong by Adam McDonald, a coach from New Zealand who will add his considerable experience to their preparations.
The future, therefore, looks to be an exciting one for women’s rugby in Asia.