Flying Kukris Head of Youth, Tim Woodward had been on the outlook for female competition in south-east Asia when a Singaporean side turned up to a girls’ tournament in Hong Kong in 2017.
Woodward had been working under the assumption that no mini or youth girls’ teams outside of Hong Kong played contact rugby so was keen to explore potential opportunities for his club.
“We kind of grabbed them and said ‘You play contact rugby, we want to see if we can come on tour to come to Singapore’,” he told World Rugby.
Word soon reached Mike Jackson, 2,500km away on the island city-state and the Tanglin Rugby Club vice-president got on the phone to see what could be arranged, aware himself that touring opportunities for girls’ teams in south-east Asia were limited.
Just nine months later, Jackson’s club hosted the first Singlife Girls Rugby TRC Cup as 21 teams from Hong Kong and two representing the Jakarta Komodos headed to Turf City to play the best sides from Singapore.
Funds had been raised in Hong Kong and Singapore in order to cover the cost of the Komodos’ trip and the ideal of helping developing rugby nations in the region has remained a key tenet of the event.
Creating a community
Last Saturday, Tanglin played host to the third edition of the tournament. In total 17 clubs from around south-east Asia were represented by 450 girls aged between eight and 18.
The Komodos travelled to Turf City once again, alongside teams from Bali, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam whose travel and accommodation was also sponsored.
“From the beginning we wanted to build it as being more of an opportunity to develop a girls’ community of rugby playing across primarily south-east Asia,” Woodward said.
“We’ve got two more mature rugby communities, [which are] more developed and also have greater financial resources.
“But with those two hubs we’ve then got opportunities to essentially sponsor and support teams from developing Asia, which is really the key focus.
“The standard of rugby is really good but the primary aim is not high-performance rugby.
“This is absolutely about bringing girls together from different rugby communities and then helping to just give girls, particularly in those developing countries, an opportunity, something to aim at, something to really see that their lives can be really changed by this.”
Not just for boys
As part of the tournament, girls from all competing clubs were encouraged to integrate and form friendships that would last much longer than the weekend.
Half of the sponsored sides were hosted by teams from Singapore, staying in billets provided by their host club, while all of the teams from Hong Kong and the sides they had funded stayed in the same hotel.
Following the on-field action on Saturday, the teams attended dinners laid on by the clubs from Hong Kong and Singapore. On Sunday the players returned to Turf City for an hour-and-a-half training session in which teams were mixed in order to promote integration.
“This is my first time outside Indonesia. I’m so happy to play against teams from other countries and meet their players,” Rere, a Komodos under-14s player, said.
“It shows me that sport and travel are not just for boys. My team managed to beat one of the Singapore teams yesterday. I’m so happy and so proud.”
Players from Hong Kong and Singapore are central to the fundraising efforts that allow the clubs from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam to take part, whether that be through bake sales, or selling ice creams, t-shirts and soft drinks in their respective clubs.
“I think it’s really important that we instil in our kids, yes, the fun and the engagement and the friendships that rugby can deliver, and the values of teamwork and sportsmanship and being more disciplined, etc,” tournament organiser Jackson said.
“But it’s also about – and certainly I think you see this in south-east Asia – Singapore is a bit of a bubble and the vast majority of kids at our rugby club are very fortunate that they live in nice condos or houses and they go to nice international schools.
“And it was really important for them and for all the families to make sure they understand and support the growth and development of rugby in those developing nations.”
Tanglin have toured Cambodia, visiting Kampuchea Balopp, a Phnom Penh-based non-profit organisation that uses rugby in its work with disadvantaged and disabled children, and which sent teams to the Singlife Girls Rugby TRC Cup this year.
“They’re working with various NGOs in Cambodia,” Jackson added.
“They are protected kids and it’s really important that we send our kids out there and for us to see them in their environment, and again use it as an educational and learning experience as well as a way of making new friends.”
Plans are already afoot for next year’s tournament and Woodward is hopeful that teams from India, Kuala Lumpur and Sri Lanka could be sponsored to appear, while he is also keen to extend links with ChildFund Pass It Back.
“This tournament is an amazing opportunity for girls to play competitive rugby,” Laos captain Toumkham Bounphengphanh said.
“This is my second time coming to the TRC Cup, and I’ve gained so many great experiences by coming both times.
“This year was even more special because we got to stay with host families from Tanglin Rugby Club. This is a great way for the Lao team to make new friends, learn about life in Singapore, and practise our English skills.
“Best of all, I feel like I have another family in Singapore now. I want many more girls from Laos to come to Singapore and experience this great development opportunity.
“Next year, I hope to bring the club that I coach at home!”