How a Laureus Hong Kong sports charity is saving kids from a life of crime

Following Bobby Charlton’s visit this week to the Laureus-supported project 'Operation Breakthrough', we talk to a young man named Tank, whose life will forever be changed thanks to getting involved with the ambitious Hong Kong based youth charity.
July 30, 2013
Tank Lam Hip-hau’s sporting pedigree is beyond question. As a talented scrum-half, he has represented Hong Kong at Under 18 and Under 20 level and has played in the Premiership for the last two seasons for Hong Kong Scottish. Now 25, his goal is to play for the senior Hong Kong team in the next few years.
It is a familiar progression for many young sportsmen and women, except Tank’s story is anything but routine.
His family came to Hong Kong as immigrants from China in 1999 when he was 11 and that began a difficult and unhappy period in his life, as he explains.
“In Hong Kong my father was working as a construction worker on very low income. We had to adapt to life in a very different place and had to find new schools. There was a lot of pressure on all the family to take this in and we had problems.
“At school my level was lower in English as I had come from China and I could not catch up, it was very difficult. I began to hang out with friends, whose academic level was also not so good. Later I went to secondary schools and became involved with other bad elements. Eventually I got involved in a fighting case and I was arrested.”
Tank could have been charged, but in Hong Kong they have a juvenile system which involves a scheme called the Superintendent’s Discretion, in which a young person, under 18, who commits a first offence, receives an official warning from a Hong Kong Police Superintendent. If they commit a crime a second time, they will be charged. If not, it will be forgotten and they will not have a criminal record hanging over them.
For Tank this was to prove a life changing moment. After he received his warning, he was given the chance to join the Laureus-supported Operation Breakthrough project, which for him has opened the door to a whole new existence.
Working in partnership with the Hong Kong Police, Operation Breakthrough helps youngsters who have been introduced to them through the Superintendent’s Discretion scheme or have been identified by schools or social workers as being at-risk. Laureus has supported the project since 2005.  The aim of the project is to use sport as a means of helping to fight crime and juvenile delinquency amongst low income and immigrant communities.
The project offers multiple sports such as football, rugby and boxing, contemporary dance, sailing and dragon boat racing. The coaching, delivered by police instructors, teaches participants the importance of teamwork, trust, respect for others and discipline. So far the project is being seen as a remarkable success with reduced re-offending rates.
For Tank it offered him a first taste of rugby which, he says has changed his life. “Rugby as a sport has its own rules which are quite different from other sports and my character. I know I cannot play a sport in a gentle way and my character makes me fit in this sport quite well.
“After I started playing, I realised that rugby is not just about picking up the ball and passing the ball. The most attractive part is about the team work and the co-operation of the team members during the game and also the social circle that I have doing this sport.
“Now I have a purpose in my life and a goal in my life. I want to get better English, get myself a better job and be more successful in life. And I realise that some of my friends who stopped education cannot get a proper job. Some have become triad members who commit crime and I don’t want to be like them.”
Tank is now the Assistant Head Coach of the programme and is studying for a degree in sports science at Hong Kong Institute of Education. This season he will become the first non-policeman to captain the Police Rugby Club first team. He hopes eventually to be able to join the police.
He says: “I am now 25. I hope in the future I can be one of the players in the Hong Kong team representing Hong Kong at senior level. No matter if that does not happen, I will continue to play rugby. Even when I do not have the ability or fitness to play a full game, I can still contribute as much time as I can as an assistant coach, coaching these Breakthrough boys and I can bring my message and my experiences to them.”
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