Hong Kong Rugby Union to Transition Elite Programme in June

(18 Jan 2021)
The Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) has announced that
due to the pressing financial and logistical implications arising
from the COVID19 pandemic it will transition its full-time men’s
fifteen-a-side representative programme to a traditional
semi-professional model and will close the Elite Rugby Programme
(ERP) after the expiry of current player and staff contracts on 30
June 2021.

The move effectively returns the Union to the
historical, semi-professional, operating model employed for most
of its 68-year history, where elite players eligible for Hong Kong
selection have their efforts subvented by stipend payments in
competitive periods.

Given the unprecedented impact of
the pandemic on the rugby calendar (including successive
postponements of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens and
uncertainties around the commercial impact of the move to Kai Tak
Stadium, the end of Global Rapid Rugby, a 10-month delay in the
qualification process for Rugby World Cup 2023 and the delayed
inception of the Asia Pacific Rugby Championship until at least
2023) – and the expiration of the local Employment Support Scheme,
the costs of the programme, which employs 30 athletes on a
full-time basis, are no longer sustainable for the HKRU.


“Many Unions around the world are having to make,
or have already made, similar decisions,” said Mr Patrick Donovan,
Chairman of the HKRU. “The global game is facing a period of
uncertainty as we try to assess the lasting impact of the pandemic
on the sport. The continuing financial challenge imposed by Covid
on our hosting of the Hong Kong Sevens, which accounts for 95% of
our income, has been further exacerbated by the end of Global
Rapid Rugby and the postponement of the Rugby World Cup Qualifier
from November 2021 to August 2022. These exceptional circumstances
necessitated a change to our current model with the objective of
ensuring our long-term financial sustainability. Having made this
difficult decision, it was imperative to give the affected players
and staff as much notice as possible so we can work with them to
support the transition to other opportunities.”

The HKRU is committed to fulfilling its current
contractual agreement with affected players and staff, including
providing full health insurance and retirement fund contributions,
and will now begin providing extensive and individualised support
for them in this transition.

The men’s and women’s elite sevens programmes,
supported by funding from the Hong Kong Sports Institute, are
unaffected, as is the women’s national XVs programme.

First established in 2016 with the objective of
strengthening the standard of domestic rugby and retaining up and
coming local talent, the ERP’s objectives have largely been met.

The considerable costs of continuing the programme
in the face of the financial pressures besetting world sport have
necessitated this difficult decision in the interests of
safeguarding the HKRU’s financial stability. Future funding models
on a semi-professional basis are currently under review by the
HKRU.

Despite a dearth of competitive opportunities for
ERP players since March 2020, and with the support of the
Government Employment Subside Scheme, the HKRU retained programme
staff for the past year, and will begin the transition to a
semi-professional basis at end June, when the current contracts
expire. Players currently enrolled in the ERP will not have their
contracts extended after this date.

Player welfare was a core tenet of the ERP, and
will continue to be so, with the HKRU set to provide athletes with
individualised and professional career support effective
immediately to help them manage the transition to a
semi-professional basis.

The Union has engaged recruitment firm Leathwaite
to offer career-planning consultancy, including curriculum vitae
development, interview training, and networking sessions with
local employers in the transition period.

“This decision has not been taken lightly, and
player welfare has been at the heart of what has been a very
difficult and lengthy discussion process over the future of the
ERP. This is something we remain fully committed to,” added Mr
Donovan.

The HKRU will continue to field both men’s and
women’s representative teams and maintains its competitive
aspirations of being the highest ranked Union in Asia behind
Japan, and qualifying for future Rugby World Cups.

After a lengthy hiatus, this process will resume
with Hong Kong’s title defence bid in the Asia Rugby Championship
title when that competition eventually resumes, which is expected
to be in May.

The move follows on from previous restructuring of
the Union’s administrative staff in April 2020, which saw
redundancies and salary reductions implemented across all
functions as the HKRU seeks to balance costs in what continues to
be an uncertain operating environment.


Rugby pictures
:
Pictures from 2019 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong
Kong Sevens
,

Pictures from 2018 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens
,

Pictures from 2017 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens
,

Pictures from 2016 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong
Kong Sevens
,

Pictures of Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2015
,

Pictures of the Asia Rugby Sevens Olympic Games Qualifier in Hong
Kong
,

Pictures of Singha Thailand Sevens 2015
,

Pictures from the 2013 British & Irish Lions Tour in Hong Kong
,

Pictures of Hong Kong Sevens 2014
,

Pictures of Hong Kong Sevens 2013
,
Pictures
of Chartis Cup 2012
and
Pictures of
Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2012
.

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