08 Mar 2019

The influence of women is felt week in and week out at the HKRU and in local ruby circles, with women constituting the fastest growing growth segment in the game, particularly at Tertiary level, and in Mini Rugby, where girls constitute the majority of participants.

To mark International Women’s Day, the HKRU participated in the KPMG SHE Inspiring Talk and will stage a series of women-forward engagements around the upcoming Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2019 (5-7 April), with a Women’s Rugby Leadership Forum on Tuesday, 2 April, and the KPMG Women in Sport Breakfast on Thursday, 4 April.

The leadership forum will gather local and international female players and to provide an opportunity to network and share experience and advice on the pathways to leadership and the challenges and opportunities that exist for female players and administrators.  Present leadership roles and opportunities available in rugby will also be discussed, alongside the steps being taken by World Rugby to encourage more women to assume leadership roles and promote more women to take up these roles.

The KPMG Women in Sport Breakfast will feature Raelene Castle, who became the first female CEO of a Tier 1 Rugby Union when she was appointed to the role for Rugby Australia, and Dee Bradbury, the first female President of a Tier 1 Union, for Scottish Rugby; both have been invited as special guests of the HKRU.

These activities are perfectly timed to coincide with one of the finest examples of women’s rugby prowess, with the 22-year old Hong Kong Women’s Rugby Sevens (4-5 April) once again playing host to the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series Qualifier, gathering international women’s teams from 12 nations and all six of World Rugby’s sporting regions.

Since the HKRU joined the Elite Athlete Programme at the Hong Kong Sports Institute in 2013, the National Women’s Sevens team has been fully professional, with 23 female athletes in the programme.  The growth in the women’s fifteen-a-side game has kept pace, with the number of Women’s clubs growing from 14 to 24 in the past five years alone, (2013-18).

Most notably, the Hong Kong Women’s XV became the first national team to qualify for a senior World Cup when they achieved the feat for the world championships in Ireland in 2017.

The Sevens week activities are only the tip of the iceberg, with Hong Kong staging numerous annual events to promote women’s rugby and empowerment, including the annual Mothers and Daughters Rugby Carnival, the Women’s and Girls Rugby Conference, and the Women in Rugby Leadership Governance Forum.  The HKRU All Girls Ruby Tournament featured more than 850 girls playing in 2018, ranging from mini rugby (U6) to youth (U19) level.

The HKRU also works in partnership with the Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation to support Pink Rugby month each October.

The Union has focused on gender equality inside its offices as well.  The HKRU Is one of few international unions to have two full-time women’s managers for the game in Jo Hull, Head of Women’s Performance at the HKRU and National XVs coach, and Sam Feausi, Head of Women’s Development, with the support of an additional full-time, female Women’s Rugby Officer in Cookie Tse.

Three of 10 strength and conditioning coaches are women, as are five of 11 performance coaches and the Head of Medical and Head of Human Resources at the HKRU.

Leadership examples and pathways are clear for the Hong Kong community to see, with two females on the present 11-member HKRU board. There have also been three former female chairwomen for local rugby clubs, with Lorna Meads the first female Chair of Borrelli Walsh Tigers (formerly DeA), a First Division Club, Candy Cheng, Chair of Gai Wu RFC, and Kim Boreham, current Director of Women’s Rugby at the HKRU, a former chair of Valley RFC. This month sees the first appointment of a woman as a General Manager of a Premiership club with Bloomberg Hong Kong Scottish’s hiring of Sarah Monaghan.

Two long-time members of the Hong Kong community have also been recognised by World Rugby for their unique impact. Ruth Mitchell, a pioneering player and administrator and a progenitor of the Hong Kong Women’s Rugby Sevens, is a recipient of World Rugby’s annual ‘Spirit of Rugby’ Award.  

Former Hong Kong Sevens manager, the late Beth Coalter, who rose to become Tournament Operations Manager for the World Rugby Sevens Series, and was honoured after her passing with the inception of an eponymous trophy presented at the Sevens each year to the most outstanding player on their Hong Kong debut.

While the world celebrates International Women’s Day on 8 March, the HKRU is working hard to ensure that the focus on female empowerment and promotion in rugby is an everyday affair.