10th Jul 2024

World Rugby unveiled the match officials selected for the Rugby Sevens at this year’s Olympic Games Paris 2024 with Craig Chan (Hong Kong China Rugby) selected to officiate the Women’s Sevens, and Matt Rodden (HKCR Head of Refereeing) participating as a TMO (Television Match Official) for the Men’s Sevens. 

Matt Rodden (who also refereed at Tokyo 2020) and our first match official representative at Rio 2016 Gabriel Lee Wing Yi, joined Craig for a photoshoot at Hong Kong Stadium to celebrate Hong Kong China’s refereeing presence at all of the Olympic Games to have featured Rugby Sevens to date.

Olympic Representation at Rio 2016

Gabriel Lee Wing Yi was the first HKCR match official to be selected for an Olympic Games at Rio 2016. She discussed the earliest referee pathways offered by Hong Kong China Rugby which opening up opportunities for local match officials to appear on the World Rugby and Asia Rugby circuits.

“My journey started as there was a dedicated effort to promote female referee participation. I was interested to know more because I wanted to be a better player at the time, so I took up the course,” explained Gabriel. “I ended up playing and refereed for two years from 2005 to 2007, and my first international invitation as a referee was to the Singapore Cricket Club Sevens in 2008 and then in Dubai in 2008 for the invitational 7s. I didn't know at the time it was a criteria for selection for the first Women's Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2009 Dubai!”

At the time, the Olympics was not on the radar but Gabriel was attending tournament by tournament until 2013 when World Rugby created a women's 7s group and then that's when the Olympic journey and ambitions started. 

She was also the first woman to officiate a Rugby World Cup Final in 2009 (and was involved in matches at the 2009 and 2013 Women’s World Cups). Serving as the referee for the RWC 2009 Final had been her biggest achievement but at the time of selection as one of 12 referees for the Women’s Rugby Sevens event at the Rio Olympics, she said it was an even bigger achievement.

After having been active on the World Rugby Women's Sevens Series, Rio was a special memory for her. “I think the Olympics is a one-of-a-kind live experience, I was almost 35 years old, so I thought it might be my only chance. I had some bad luck as I rolled my ankle just six days beforehand but I was allowed to stay involved and I still refereed two games and was involved as an assistant referee. It was the first Olympics to have Rugby Sevens and everyone wanted to do their best and show we could do a great job and I think we succeeded.”

HKCR Involvement At Tokyo 2020

Matt Rodden carried the HKCR Olympic flame into Tokyo 2020. He had joined Hong Kong China Rugby in 2013 and started as a Community Referee Manager but moved into a development role, looking after the referee's pathway. 

He said ‘It is a really rewarding role for me and a great way to be involved in the game. We're really lucky here that we have a passionate group of referees who want to perform at the highest level, so to be able to support them on their journey is a really rewarding part of my role.”

Rodden remembers his own experience of being a match official at Tokyo 2020 by calling it a really interesting experience due to it being pandemic-impacted Games. “The Olympics was never really a goal. I think when I started refereeing, Sevens Rugby wasn't yet part of the Olympics, so it wasn't the reason that I became a referee. As the game developed, I really wanted to be a part of the Sevens World Series and when I was able to achieve that, I was looking at what was next. It wasn't until then that the pathway journey to the Olympics became a reality for me.”

Of the difficult time surrounding the Tokyo Olympics, he said, “The fact that the tournament nearly didn't go ahead (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) I had kind of accepted the fact that it might not happen. So when it did go ahead, I just was so thankful as it was an amazing experience to be involved with the Olympics, regardless of what was happening in the background.”

He added, “We had had a really tight group of referees leading up to the Tokyo 2020 Sevens and that 7-10 days was the last time we were all together as a group. Despite it being a challenging environment, it was really great to bond together.”

Road To Paris 2024 Olympics

Matt has been in the TMO and Performance Reviewer role for the last four years with World Rugby and helped out with referee coaching. He will be Paris as TMO and Performance Reviewer for the Men's Rugby Sevens tournament.

Matt explained the opportunities since Toyo 2020, “Paddy O'Brien (World Rugby Referee Manager) approached me around the time of Tokyo 2020 and asked me to join the management team moving heading into Paris 2024, It was a great honour for me as I had enjoyed my time refereeing, but I've always enjoyed helping others to succeed and I get more enjoyment out of seeing others perform at that level.”

Rodden has played an important role in Craig Chan’s journey too, and he said of the Paris-bound match official, “Craig's a really hard worker and he really wants to just succeed in everything that he puts his mind to. He's a pleasure to work with and he drives it, so I don't have to drag him along that journey, which is really important, particularly for refereeing. 

I think anyone who wants to achieve at the performance end of sport has to drive their own journey. With Craig, when he needs help, he asks the right people but he's the one doing all the work behind the scenes to make sure that when he's out on the pitch, he's performing at a high level. 

Craig Chan has been a regular on the Women’s HSBC SVNS Series this season and was involved in the Olympic Repechage tournament in Monaco in June 2024. 

Craig Chan looks ahead to Paris 2024 - click to play video 

HKCR Rugby Referee Pathways 

Matt Rodden confirmed that in Hong Kong we are lucky to have role models and that a number of referees coming through the system are hard workers and ambitious. 

He points to Sunny Lee as another example. She has been involved with the Challenger Series (was the match referee for the final of the third Challenger Sevens leg for the women in Krakow) and took charge of her first XVs test match this season, with Rodden adding, “She's got a big future ahead of her if she continues the hard work she's been putting in.”

Rodden also cited Morgan White as another role model. He is at the World Rugby U20 Trophy in Scotland currently but has also been officiating on the Challenger Series.

“There's a really good pathway and it's a wonderful aspect of our environment, that there are some real opportunities to get involved and to officiate at a very high level, both domestically, but also in the representative space. We've got some amazing opportunities to go and referee overseas and in different competitions and also represent Asia Rugby and World Rugby in their competitions too.”

In total, 23 match officials will take charge of the Rugby Sevens competitions at the Olympic Games in Paris, France from 24-30 July at Stade de France, the venue for the men’s Rugby World Cup 2023 final last October.

This article was posted in collaboration with our good friends at RugbyAsia247 – check them out for all the latest Asia Rugby news!