Few people get the chance to turn a life-long devotion to their chosen sport into a successful career, but Rambo Leung has found a way to do it. He took up rugby in 1987 and went on to star as the first Chinese player to represent Hong Kong and to become a standout coach of junior teams. After graduation, he had initially worked as a graphic designer, but was always torn between that job and his true vocation.
"My interest in rugby overrode everything else," he recalls. "Therefore, I didn't hesitate when the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) invited me to join in 1994." Since then, Mr Leung has become an expert in almost all aspects of the game and in how best to develop it locally. His first step was to work as a development officer, which involved actively promoting rugby in schools and overseeing short-term courses.
This paved the way for a move in 1997 to the HKRFU's coaching department to organise training for coaches while also studying to sharpen his own skills. Subsequently, Mr Leung took on individual training for elite players in the Hong Kong squad before returning to the community department in 2005.
My interest in rugby overrode everything else
In his current role as assistant development manager, he is responsible for activities to promote the sport in Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland. The daily routine generally involves co-ordinating programmes for both mini-rugby and college teams, as well as liaising with schools, youth centres and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. The aim is to increase awareness of the sport and the level of participation. His involvement with the Hong Kong squad has continued in the shape of coaching and scouting for new talent.
In addition to conducting regular publicity campaigns, Mr Leung also devotes three to four months a year to the organisation of the world-famous Hong Kong Sevens. "That entails everything from the recruitment of volunteers to providing event management training and dealing with the occasional crisis," he says. "I take real pride in being part of such a hallmark international sporting event and promoting the reputation of the union." Not surprisingly, Mr Leung considers this as one of the most rewarding aspects of the job.
One of his current projects is to establish closer links between local schools and rugby clubs, so as to build up a stronger base of players and more public support. "Our main goal is to encourage the participation of students and their parents, so that rugby gains in popularity and has a growing audience in Hong Kong," he explains. "For example, if more young people understand that a rugby team requires 15 players of different physiques, athletic abilities and specialist skills, they will see everyone can take part and contribute in their own way."
Thanks to the efforts of Mr Leung and his team, there are now numerous opportunities to get involved in playing and coaching programmes at local rugby clubs. Incoming club development officers receive on-the-job training at the HKRFU and part-time or full-time coaches can sit for formal certificates at four different levels. For interested candidates, specific academic qualifications are less important than having some knowledge of event management or of sports or leisure management and development. It obviously helps to have an outgoing personality plus strong communication and interpersonal skills.
"The key, though, is a real passion for rugby," Mr Leung says. "We work long hours and during public holidays to promote an activity which members of the public will do in their leisure time." With wider participation among local students, Mr Leung expects to see more Chinese players selected for the Hong Kong team and steadily higher standards of training and performance.
"Local rugby is still in the development stage, so our first steps are to further the union's reputation through the Hong Kong Sevens and to attract more young players through an expanding range of programmes," Mr Leung explains. "In time, we hope to have a truly professional rugby team that can lead the way in Asia."
The development of rugby in the mainland revolves around elite training for the national team. However, according to Mr Leung, community initiatives in cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen are gaining momentum, and these often involve professionals from Hong Kong. "There is growing demand for experienced coaches with sports management skills," he says. "We are also promoting exchanges with institutes in the mainland, though full-time job opportunities in China will be further down the line, as the market is still evolving."