Barefoot and muddied, a group of youngsters sprinted across a makeshift pitch in rural Vietnam, passing the ball in a game of touch rugby in a country where few people have ever heard of the sport.
They belong to Vietnam’s only rugby program for locals, rolled out for kids in a remote commune where some players have to travel by boat to training sessions often held against a backdrop of rice terraces and curious onlookers.
Few knew anything about rugby when they joined the scheme, marveling at the egg-shaped ball, but are now keen fans planning to closely follow the Rugby World Cup in Japan, which starts in September.
“I haven’t watched international rugby ... but if possible I will surely watch the Rugby World Cup,” said 14-year-old Bao Cham, a player on the Silver Fox team in Kim Boi District.
With the first Rugby World Cup held in Asia, organizers are hoping to boost rugby’s popularity in backwaters like Kim Boi, where most kids count Lionel Messi as a hero, but have never heard of New Zealand great Dan Carter.
Vietnam is one of the few countries in Southeast Asia with no rugby federation, and international games are not regularly aired on cable TV.
That means the sport remains on the margins, making the rugby clinic in Kim Boi something of an oddity.
Launched in 2015, the ChildFund Pass It Back program is aimed at teaching youngsters life skills, with lessons on health or planning for the future interspersed with rugby training sessions.
The players, aged 11 to 16, meet regularly on weekends to play touch rugby, which has none of the full-contact version’s heavy tackling.
There are more than 6,100 players and coaches in the program today, more than half of them female, in Vietnam, Laos, East Timor and the Philippines.
Some players will go to Japan with ChildFund — traveling by airplane for the first time — for rugby training and life skills sessions.
Rugby was not the most obvious choice. Soccer, volleyball and sepak takraw (kick volleyball) were also floated as options when the program was piloted in Laos, but rugby was considered the most gender-neutral.
“The young girls in the commune wanted to try this new sport that they had never seen before, it wasn’t considered a boys’ sport,” said John Harris, regional operations officer for the scheme.
Still, some participants in Vietnam had to push back again entrenched sexism.
Coach Bui Thi Lan was told by her in-laws that she should give up rugby after marrying and having a baby — in line with expectations that women should avoid playing rowdy sports.
Lan would have none of it. She returned to coaching four months after giving birth and now teaches 60 kids four times per week.
“Rugby brought me money so that I could take care of myself, working and studying at the same time,” she told reporters at a training session, in which she fed her baby between modules.
Battling inequality was not the only hurdle. There was no vocabulary in Vietnamese for the sport and some terms were coined on the fly.
A scrum is mai rua, which means “turtle shell” in Vietnamese, while the name for rugby is simply bong bau duc, which translates to “oval ball.”
Rugby was not always so foreign to Vietnam, although it has never been widespread among locals. The French are believed to be the first to introduce rugby to the country, and an excerpt from a 1933 telephone book describing the Saigon Sports Stadium notes a rugby pitch with stands for 3,000 spectators.
Today there are no professional Vietnamese-born players abroad — although France flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc is of Vietnamese origin — and just a small group of expatriates playing recreationally in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
However, the game is not totally unfamiliar in Vietnam, as it echoes aspects of the traditional vat cau new year festival that sees shirtless men wrestle for possession of a large wooden ball on a field.
Now Vietnam’s budding young rugby stars hope that the sport will start to gain popularity.
“I really wish that Vietnam would participate in Rugby World Cup one day, and I hope to be a member of that team,” 17-year-old coach Bui Van Nhan told reporters.
A businessman who received millions of dollars for his work on Tokyo’s successful campaign to host the 2020 Olympic Games has said that he played a key role in securing the support of a former Olympics powerbroker suspected by French prosecutors of taking bribes to help Japan’s bid. Haruyuki Takahashi, a former executive at the advertising agency Dentsu, was paid US$8.2 million by the committee that spearheaded Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Games, financial records showed. Takahashi said the work included lobbying International Olympic Committee (IOC) members such as Lamine Diack, the ex-Olympics powerbroker, and that he gave Diack gifts, including digital
If British industry succeeds in saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, it would in part be thanks to the pioneering role played by Formula One (F1) racing teams in the country. Seven of F1’s 10 teams have joined forces with leading aerospace and engineering firms to ramp up production of ventilators, while Mercedes has also worked with medics and academics to produce an alternative breathing aid. Normally obsessed with improving the performance of cars that race at more than 320kph, the teams are stripping back lifesaving devices and using computer simulation to test whether more simplified models can be mass produced. The seven
BITING THE BULLET: Barcelona’s Lionel Messi said that top players would make contributions so that the club’s employees can collect 100 percent of their salary Three-quarters of Rugby Australia’s staff were temporarily laid off yesterday amid huge financial losses from the sport’s coronavirus-enforced shutdown, while Lionel Messi confirmed on Monday that Barcelona’s players would take a 70 percent pay cut to ensure that the club’s other employees are paid. The cuts to rugby staff were “the toughest decision in the game’s history,” governing body CEO Raelene Castle said. “Although extremely painful, they are necessary to ensure ... we are able to come out the other side of this global crisis, fully operational and ready to throw everything into the rebuild.” The sport has been hit hard by
After the University of Michigan lost to Ohio State University in the semi-finals of the women’s NCAA Big Ten Tournament, Michigan Wolverines coach Kim Barnes Arico and her staff hit the road, where they intended to take advantage of a full week off before the NCAA Tournament by visiting as many potential recruits as possible. “That was our window. You get to go to someone’s home. That helps you build relationships. Helps build so many things,” Barnes Arico said. “We had all these things scheduled until we went to see high-school championships.” Of course, the championships were canceled, as was the NCAA