Lao Khang - Laos Rugby

Rugby thriving in Laos thanks to the pioneering work of Khang

As a star player, coach, and leader, Lao Khang has inspired thousands of young people to take up rugby and continues to be a trailblazer for the sport in Laos.

Until recently the sport of rugby union did not resonate with the people of Laos.

In her role as a coach Lao Khang was often met with dismay when she told families that their children were going to learn to play the game.

“Parents and community members would say ‘you’re going to do what?!’,” she said.

However, in the six years since Lao Khang first picked up an oval ball, and thanks to the work done by the Lao Rugby Federation (LRF) and the ChildFund Pass It Back initiative, the sport has made significant headway.

Participation numbers in the Asian country have increased by 900 per cent in the last five years, maintaining a 50-50 split between male and female players as it has grown.

“Now when we go somewhere and say we are going to play a rugby match, they say ‘Good luck, win the trophy’,” Lao Khang added.

“I feel like that’s a big accomplishment and we can use this popularity to grow and develop more and more.”

According to the LRF it is an achievement that would not have been possible without “Lao Khang’s tireless work”.

100 Women of 2018

Her contribution to rugby’s rise in popularity in Lao was recognised by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) last month as it named Lao Khang as one of its 100 Women of 2018. Chelsea Clinton and Jameela Jamil were other notable names on the list, Alicia Keys was included in 2016.

“I’m so proud,” Lao Khang said of her success. “I didn’t start my work and doing these activities because I thought all of this would happen.

“I didn’t know so many kids would get involved and that it would spread so much like this. I just started because it seemed like a good opportunity at the time and now, look how far it’s come.”

It would have been impossible for Lao Khang to predict how important rugby would become to her life back in 2012, when she first came into contact with the sport.

Aged 13, she had been required to quit school to look after her family and work on the farm after her father fell ill. Her prospects did not stretch much further than the village in the Nonghet District of Xieng Khouang Province in which she grew up.

But rugby came to Namgonnoua Village six years ago, and Lao Khang was attracted to the sport as it offered a chance for women and girls to join in.

“They opened the opportunity to as many women as possible,” she said. “It was the first time that women were invited to play.

“Normally women are at home and when they invite people to join sport activities, they invite only boys. This time they invited everyone and said everyone can play.”

A difficult transition 

Lao Khang grasped the opportunity with both hands and was invited to the country’s capital, Vientiane, just two months later to work as a coach on a project recently launched by the LRF and ChildFund.

Moving to Lao’s biggest city presented its own challenges. Having never left Xieng Khouang Province she was a native Hmong speaker and therefore needed to learn Lao while also developing the IT skills that would help her fulfil her new role.

“During that time I tried to develop myself - learn how to use computers, how to talk and write, how to speak Lao, how to be a coach and how to train as a player, myself,” she said.

“After I was training more and more with the Lions (a club in Vientiane), I had the chance to train with the Lao national team and travelled outside of Laos for the first time, to Thailand.”

Lao Khang had been urged not to leave her village to take up the internship, and she admits the transition was a difficult one.

“When I first arrived, I was alone. I had a room alone and I had to do everything alone. That was very different from when I lived with my whole family all the time,” she added.

“People in my village spoke badly about me when I moved to take the internship. They said I was coming to the city centre to be a sex worker or do other bad things.

“I felt so bad when I heard them say this but I thought to myself, 'Don’t let it get to you. You know you aren’t doing anything bad so keep trying your best to do good work and work hard’.”

http://www.worldrugby.org/photos/388473

Pivotal role 

Lao Khang played a pivotal role in helping to launch ChildFund Pass It Back, a regional sport for development curriculum supported by Asia Rugby and World Rugby, recruiting and managing 20 coaches from Xieng Khouang Province three years ago.

She now manages more than 40 coaches, who lead 70 teams within the province. More than half of all the players and coaches involved are female.

“This is a really strong part of our work because women and girls want to join when they see they have the chance learn about leadership, planning for the future or other life skills,” she explained.

“Half the coaches and leaders we have leading our activities are male and half are female. When we have a chance for a training session and we have only male coaches, the girls don’t feel comfortable to join.

“But when we have female coaches and male coaches and we encourage the players of all genders to join, it’s clear that there is a place on a team for everyone.”

She has achieved a lot in the last six years, but Lao Khang is not finished yet.

“The thing I want to see now is more and more clubs develop to play contact in rugby. We have expanded our activities to nine districts now and I’m working hard to get all the districts in my province to have a club that plays contact.

“Many young players want to play contact. They love it but we have to travel from their home district to the provincial capital to find a safe pitch to play contact on so it’s more difficult, but we are getting there.

“In 2019, three club teams from my province will play in the Vientiane 10s International competition so this is an exciting step.”

Photo credit: Lao Rugby Federation

gemma fay
Women's Feature News Women in Rugby
Iryna Arkhytska aiming to balance Ukrainian board following 'marathon' southern hemisphere trip
World Rugby Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship recipient Iryna Arkhytska embarked on a tour of Australia, Fiji and New Zealand that is already having an impact at home in the Ukraine.
France v USA - Rugby World Cup 2019: Pool C
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Kirsten Peterson: The woman behind the USA's mindful approach to RWC 2019
Sport psychologist Kirsten Peterson spent time with the USA as they prepared for the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup in July.
World Rugby Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
How rugby is empowering women in Fiji
World Rugby Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship recipient Vela Naucukidi discusses the changing attitudes towards females and rugby in Fiji.
HSBC USA Women's Sevens 2018
Women's Sevens Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Sarah Hirini: "We can’t fall back on what we’ve previously done"
New Zealand captain Sarah Hirini shares how her side are fully focused on what's ahead and are eager to set new markers after a title-winning world series last year.
Canada v Wales - Women's Rugby World Cup 2017
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Julianne Zussman falling in love with rugby all over again as a referee
Former Canada full-back Julianne Zussman will make her debut as a HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series referee in Glendale this weekend.
Stacey Waaka - New Zealand
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Stacey Waaka: “I believe everything happens for a reason”
One of the ‘Unstoppables’ in World Rugby’s new campaign to promote women in rugby, Black Ferns star Stacey Waaka is one of a select few to have won Rugby World Cups in sevens and 15s but she may never have had the opportunity to write her name into the history books after being involved in a serious bus crash aged 15.
Mitre 10 Cup Rd 5 - Hawke's Bay v Southland
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Rebecca Mahoney breaks new ground as she rises to the challenge in New Zealand
Two-time Rugby World Cup winner Rebecca Mahoney discusses her historic Mitre 10 Cup refereeing debut and her desire to be on the match official panel for New Zealand 2021.
Nutsa Shamatava
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
'At first it was unusual for players but now it’s normal'
Georgia medic Nutsa Shamatava discusses her experiences as the only female team doctor at Rugby World Cup 2019.
Jayne Pearce at London 2012
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Pearce privileged to watch women flourish during transformative year
Rugby World Cup 2019 Match Press Officer Jayne Pearce headed to Japan on the back of media operations roles at the FIFA women's and netball World Cups.
Ksenia Getmanova - Russia logistics manager
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Getmanova relishing 'biggest' role of her life in Japan
Russia's logistics manager Ksenia Getmanova hopes that her involvement at Rugby World Cup 2019 can inspire more women to consider sport as a career.