This week, we are launching our inaugural three-part “Women in Sports Leadership” interview series. Each Thursday over the next three weeks, we will be sharing an interview with one women in sports leadership in Hong Kong, hearing their stories about being a leader in their respective sports. Our aspiration at WISE HK has always been to get more women involved in sports: not just to participate in, but also to organize, to coach and to lead. In these series we will learn about what it means to these women as they go about being generally bad-ass in their roles!
Laura is one of the main organizers for tag rugby in Hong Kong; in fact, she’s been instrumental in building the sport of tag rugby in our city. In her role as HKTag Manager, Laura not only organizes social tag rugby events and coaches new players, but also helped coordinate the Copper 88 HKTag Super League that took place from July to August 2017 at King’s Park. She captained the Buffaloos, who were ultimately the Cup Finals winners.
Laura started playing contact rugby in Spain, where she’s from. She’s a huge proponent of women playing tag rugby, and in Hong Kong, has been central to promoting the sport to women. She organized the first-ever all-women’s tag rugby game in June 2017, captaining the Islanders team to the win. Reflecting on that experience, Laura feels proud and happy to be able to get together a group of women to participate in this event; even though many of the players were new to the sport, they all displayed tremendous effort. She is also taking a course to become an official referee in the sport.
By day, Laura is a kindergarten Spanish teacher at Rosary Hill School. She also enjoys traveling, exploring new cities and taking photos.
Tag rugby is a minimal contact version of rugby, where the emphasis is on the attack, a tackle is made by removing the tags from the ball carrier and the defence must get back 8 metres after every tackle. You can follow Hong Kong Tag Rugby on Facebook for information on games and schedules
Can you share a bit about what you do in promoting and organizing tag rugby in Hong Kong?
I am currently part of the official governing body for Tag Rugby in Hong Kong, known as Hong Kong Tag (HKTag). Tag is a very new sport to Hong Kong, but it has a huge following in Australia where it is played very competitively, including an international world cup. My role oversees the whole administrative side of the game that includes promoting the sport, organising social sessions and competitions, referee clinics and managing HKTag social media.
Our social sessions run weekly and are open to all levels and genders. We run sessions for beginners at the same time for those who are new to the sport, so that they can learn the basic skills and rules. This year in March, we saw our numbers increase from 20 to 60 people coming to join us — even people who had never played any sports before. A huge percentage of this increase came from female newcomers – it was amazing to see our work produce these good results.
Our main club competition, the Copper 88 HKTag Super League, is held in the summer. This year was a huge success –we had 8 teams playing this year (2017) compared to 4 last year; thanks to the work of everyone involved in the tag team, the volunteers and the players who come down to Happy Valley and King’s Park every week and support us.
How did you get involved in becoming a sports organizer for tag rugby?
I arrived in Hong Kong in 2016 and I was interested in joining a rugby team. I had played rugby in Spain, after all. But just a few weeks after, the contact rugby season was over and I was looking for a social sport for the summer. I went to Happy Valley for one of the HKTag social session and there were around 30 people – many were beginners like me. I had so much fun, firstly because tag rugby is very fast and intense, and secondly – in my opinion, most importantly – everyone there was really nice and helpful, organizers encouraged everyone to be part of the game. So I kept going back and I even joined a competition a few weeks after that. I enjoyed it so much that I started to get involved with the organisation. Neville Metcalfe, chairman of Hong Kong Rugby League, asked me if I wanted to take it more seriously. And here I am!
I have recently decided to train as a referee. We want to move forward and take tag rugby to the next level. This means increasing the quality of our competitions and having good referees is vital to that. I don’t like asking others to do something I wouldn’t myself, so it was only natural that I train to become one as well.
What’s it like to be the only women as the main organizer of tag rugby in HK?
Until last week I was the only woman in the managing committee. Ideally we’d have more women involved because tag rugby in Hong Kong is mainly a mixed game, so this should be also reflected in the management. Even though I was the only women, I have always felt free and comfortable to share my ideas, vision or concerns with my colleagues, and in fact it’s an important issue for all the team to promote and encourage women to play tag rugby.
Would it be good to have other woman involved at the same level as me? Definitely yes, without a doubt, and I’m happy to say that we have recently welcomed a new member who is also a woman. I think naturally, as we continue to have more women playing, we’ll have more volunteers and more taking managing roles as well!
What do you hope you can accomplish in your role as an organizer or tag rugby?
I am truly proud of what we have done so far: we have come from 20 people attending our social sessions to weekly sessions of 60+ players and a summer season with 8 mixed teams. I personally want us to keep growing, to have as many people from diverse backgrounds playing, to make it even easier for beginners to join us and have a more regular schedule. Then I will be happy!
Can you also share a bit about organizing the first-ever all-women’s game in HK?
In 2016 I participated in the HKTag Origin, a once-off game that we organize every year alongside Hong Kong Rugby League. In that year, it was a mixed game with only two women at all times on the pitch, due to the lack of female players involved in tag. Since then, we have been working hard to change the situation, promoting tag for women who normally have more prejudices against rugby or feel less comfortable to join a new sport. One year later, we had our first ever all-women fixture thanks to the amazing women who were committed and ready to have fun. It was a huge step forward, and if we can do our part to break stereotypes that sport is reserved for a certain demographic or gender then I will consider it a success.
What are your biggest takeaways so far from organizing tag rugby in HK?
That it is possible to build something from the ground up as long as you have committed people around you who share the same passion. That entrepreneurial mindset is really powerful in any walk of life. Of course there are challenges and it does take a lot of personal time and effort, but seeing players, regardless of gender, age, ability – enjoy themselves is always worth it.
I’ve also made some great friendships and learning from my colleagues is a big part of it – we all come from different walks of life and have different day jobs so to see how different people interact and deal with challenges is very insightful.
What value or meaning does being in a leadership role in HKTAG bring to you?
As a player, you just turn up and try to have a good time. You’re not necessarily too concerned about too much else. As an organizer, your concerns are far broader, but the objective is always for everyone to enjoy themselves as much as possible. It’s the only reason why people participate in sport. You become a facilitator and for me, good leadership in this context is about producing an environment that enables others to enjoy themselves.
If other women were interested in pursuing a leadership role within their sports organization, but were afraid of the commitment or just generally feel that it’s a lot of pressure, what words of advice do you offer to encourage them to try?
I would just say go for it, manage your time wisely and make sure that you communicate with your team. It is a commitment and pressure, of course, but that comes with everything and for everyone who is pursuing a post of responsibility. But to see a project grow and to see people enjoying themselves as a result – that is incredibly rewarding.