Average rugger is Chinese, lives in New Territories and plays for health, fitness & friendship

24th Nov 2020

The HKRU has announced the findings of its ‘Rugby Participation in Hong Kong’ survey. With the support of KPMG, principal partner of the HKRU Premiership, the survey was conducted despite the disruptions of the past year, and presents the largest and most comprehensive statistical analysis of the Hong Kong rugby community ever recorded.  

Using the enforced break of the pandemic to positive effect, the HKRU commissioned the research with dual objectives: better quantifying the playing population and enhancing understanding of the factors that affect player engagement and retention.

The results are revelatory and exciting, and confirm that the HKRU reflects its wider community and delivers a quantifiable social and personal benefit to players. Statistically, the average player is Chinese (54% of the playing population), lives in the New Territories, and plays for health, fitness and friendship.

“We are grateful to KPMG for their invaluable support, and to the wider community for engaging so fully in this effort to help us better understand and serve our members. The results are both encouraging and surprising, and will be an essential resource in our continued efforts to share the values of rugby with all Hong Kong.

“This was more than a tabulation exercise for us, we wanted to deepen our understanding of what motivates people to play and stay in the game and help us in our drive to become a data-driven organization. KPMG’s expertise has helped identify some actionable issues, and the research is already informing - and potentially transforming – our planning,” said HKRU Chairman Mr Patrick Donovan.

Hong Kong Rugby’s largest ever research survey

The survey recorded over 12,500 responses from members of 98 stakeholder groups and 10 workshops, and achieved strong penetration within the community, with over 73% of senior players participating, and more than 40% of youth players and 30% of mini rugby families responding.                

“It has been a privilege for KPMG to assist the HKRU in their biggest ever rugby research survey. KPMG’s long interest in rugby has been driven by the shared values that the sport represents with our organisation. This survey has managed to obtain an exceptional response rate, driving meaningful results that are already being put into action thanks to the collaborative effort between our two organisations. KPMG looks forward to continuing our partnership this year with the KPMG Women’s Domestic Leagues,” said Mr Grant Jamieson, Head of Advisory, Hong Kong at KPMG China.

Hong Kong rugby boasts 11,026 members competing across Mini, Youth, Schools, Tertiary and Senior competitions for players aged 4 to 40+, making rugby the city’s third most popular participatory team sport behind basketball and football. Encouragingly, the largest participation figures are at entry level, with mini and primary rugby accounting for 6,000-plus participants.

While the game is majority Chinese, Hong Kong Rugby is astonishingly diverse with players from 51 nationalities competing week in and out.

Women’s Rugby poised to drive growth

One of the clearest statistical indicators of untapped potential was in women’s rugby, already one of the fastest growth areas for the game. Women constitute just 28% of players, despite making up 45% of the senior game, and 53% of Hong Kong’s population.

Given girls participation in mini - which is mixed gender and primarily non-contact - and youth rugby hovers at less than 25%, Kim Kan, Director of Women’s Rugby at the HKRU, and a Global Director of Real Estate and Construction at KPMG China, is excited at the potential for significant growth.

“Girls participation is primed to grow quickly, especially considering the increasing profile of the women’s national team which became the first Hong Kong team to play in a Rugby World Cup in 2017. Recent seasons have shown consistent growth in women’s participation at senior level, creating an icon effect for the wider girls sports community. With more intensive and targeted resourcing we believe we can significantly grow the numbers of young girls playing rugby,” added Ms Kan.

In an encouraging sign of the upward trend in women’s playing numbers, participation rose to 34% of players at Tertiary level. This not only affords space for continued growth, but also for promoting the benefits of sport for young adult girls, with numerous studies showing females engaged in sport have greater self-esteem and confidence, higher matriculation rates and lower unwanted pregnancy rates.

The research findings will help HKRU address a global decline in rugby participation and offers a statistical picture of the factors affecting participation locally, especially in player retention.

This includes identifying specific periods where rugby loses a high percentage of players in the transition from mini to youth and senior rugby. 45% of players drop out at U8s level, while a further 61% of those continuing through U12 level do not pursue youth or school rugby opportunities.

While attrition at amateur and youth level is organic and expected, the figures reveal U19s is a vital transition period to address, with 60% of players not advancing to Senior Rugby, a pressing issue for the HKRU’s international aspirations given World Rugby and Olympic eligibility requirements.

This gap was recognized previously at the Union and is being addressed to good effect. The creation of academy programmes and increasing pathway opportunities for eligible players has shown early success, with a steady stream of U19s moving to senior and even representative rugby. Hong Kong has seen a flood of local players representing Hong Kong including Sam Tsoi Kin-san, Erik Kwok Pak-nga, Paul Altier, Hugo Stiles, Mark Coebergh, Liam Herbert and Max Denmark, amongst others.

The success of this implementation bodes well for future HKRU initiatives refined and informed by statistical analysis. Building from KPMG’s comprehensive findings and supported by targeted efforts and old-fashioned hard work, the HKRU can be hopeful of bucking a global trend of declining participation.

Participation Drivers

Key to this future success will be leveraging the positive factors drawing people to the game at every age and skill level. The survey asked players to identify the top factors that got them into rugby with some encouraging, even inspiring, responses. Enhancing and improving health and fitness continues to be the overwhelming driver for players, with ‘making new friends’ and the ‘values of rugby’ also credited with bringing people to the game. 

HKRU assumptions about why people step away from rugby were largely confirmed, and are as organic as they are expected.  From mini to tertiary level, first school and then work commitments were the consistent top factors behind people stopping playing, while students pursing overseas educational opportunities was a key factor at youth level (impacting U19s retention rates). 

Injury concerns and the physical demands of the game were cited by most senior players as reasons to hang up the boots, with most players leaving senior rugby after aged 31; increasing family and work commitments were also pressing factors.

Amongst the most interesting findings were the statistical differences in rationales for playing between expatriate and local Chinese players. Drivers behind Chinese participation show that local players are eager to test themselves, with tertiary players’ number one factor behind taking up the game being ‘to try a new challenge’.  Chinese youth players were also more likely to indicate the desire for a challenge as a driver - by a factor of 80% to 52% for respondents of other nationalities. 89% of surveyed senior rugby women’s players indicated a similarly motivational reason for playing, compared to 56% of men.

These factors are a testament to the positive impact that Hong Kong Rugby is having on its own - and the wider - community.