This week Hong Kong’s women stand on the brink of a stunning achievement, qualification for the rugby World Cup. Not now and perhaps never again will Hong Kong have a better chance in a global team sport to reach a World Cup.
Ardent HongKonger that I am, I’m also a realist and unless the new Messi is a HK resident Hong Kong are sadly never going to make the football World Cup. Nor sadly, however much money is pumped at them, will our men’s rugby team – much as I’d love to see them qualify – with the current format there are simply too many countries ahead of us.
Recognition should be made here of the HK men’s cricket team who qualified for the last two T20 World Cups and with the current crop of super talented youngsters both male and female could well do so again – but cricket is not yet a truly global game.
Rugby is a global game and with the popularity of the Sevens at the recent Olympics growing fast. This is what makes our women’s potential achievement so amazing. Especially as they are playing not only the opposition but also the blatant sexual discrimination and lack of interest within their own male dominated Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU).
When the Hong Kong football team played their World Cup qualifiers last year, the HKFA advertised heavily, produced posters, banners creating a buzz and a massive awareness in both traditional media and online. Everyone, whether you were a football fan or not, knew the matches were coming.
The extent of the HKRU’s marketing is one ugly banner, the first published version of which hadn’t even been proof read and had Hong Kong playing Fiji twice. Even the recent men’s rugby Cup of Nations competition was advertised on a tram and accompanied by numerous articles, banners, tweets… There’s one ugly banner for the Women’s World Cup Qualifier.
The first two games of the World Cup Qualifier are being played at King’s Park which is frankly nothing more than a school playing field and a complete pain for fans to get to. Why are the games not being held at Mongkok Stadium – which with even basic marketing could have been a noisy sell-out – or at any of the other LCSD grounds which at least have a grandstand where the crowd can really get behind their team and help lift them to qualification? It’s frankly embarrassing to have such important matches played at such an amateur ground.
It’s frankly disgusting that the HKRU promotes rugby as a game for all – yet as you can see the Women’s World Cup Qualifier isn’t even listed in their upcoming events! There are more articles on the HKRU website about the New Year’s Day Youth Tournament, than the women’s national team being one step from playing at the World Cup.
The sexual bias at the HKRU is sadly not just limited to the national level, where HK’s women professional rugby players are paid far less than their male counterparts (none are willing to comment on the record, such is the petty vindictive nature of the male dominated culture that permeates the HKRU), but extends to club level.
The HKRU made a big deal at the start of the new season about a sponsorship deal for women’s rugby one part of which, as can be seen published on the HKRU website includes a live video stream of the women’s Premiership game of the week. Look online you can find extensive video coverage of the men’s Premiership. There’s video of women’s first games of the season (all the matches were played consecutively at King’s Park), where are the rest? Will KPMG the sponsor complain? No chance. Many of it’s senior HK management are rugby old boys and it heavily sponsors the mens game.
The HKRU is perhaps the wealthiest sports organisation in HK, it’s 2014 financial returns show assets of around $250million and it extravagantly funds the men’s game. It’s sad that they are so blind to the women’s game where the potential for great things exists.
Let’s hope that the 26 women picked for the squad can take that final step and make the World Cup. Perhaps then the old men running the game will take notice – but then again, probably not as there’s nothing in it for them other than trying to steal the spotlight from the women who made it happen.
Hong Kong’s women need your support, lend you voices and your presence head to Kings Park, 7pm tonight and cheer them on against Fiji!