I first visited Hong Kong with Laureus in 2005, five years after Laureus Sport for Good was founded by its first patron, Nelson Mandela, with the words: ‘Sport has the power to change the world’. I visited a project we had just begun to support, called Operation Breakthrough. It seemed to me then to be a perfect illustration of this mission we had just undertaken. It was located at the Police and Sport Recreation Club, and the name is no coincidence. The volunteers running the project included several members of local law enforcement, and typically the young people who attended had been in trouble. They were at-risk kids – in many cases they had been before a judge, who had given them a choice: go to prison or go to the rugby club.
By 2005, Laureus Sport for Good was already growing into a global movement. I had seen programmes all over the world benefit children and young people in many different ways. But Operation Breakthrough always stuck with me – maybe it was because rugby had given me goals in life, it had given me honesty and taught me to never give up.
I came back to the project over the years, and I learned that some of the kids who had been picked up by Operation Breakthrough had become coaches for the next generation of young people. Others had joined the police force. That’s the power of sport and it is undeniable.
Today, Laureus Sport for Good has improved the lives of six and a half million children and young people around the world, using sport to help them tackle violence, discrimination and inequality. But it would not be possible without the partnerships we have forged during that time, and there is no better example than the one we have with the Hong Kong Rugby Union.
In recent years, our focus in this region has been on a programme called Model City Hong Kong, which is a hub for a multitude of local sport-for-development organisations, who can work collaboratively and share best practices. Their work right now centres around using sport to tackle a youth mental health crisis that is unfortunately not unique to Hong Kong.
There is nowhere like the Hong Kong Sevens – a long weekend that is a celebration of the fast-paced, short-sided version of the game, but also a great party, a showcase for the colour and the culture of this unique place. It projects the host city and the sport I love all over the world, set against a sea of smiling faces.
Since its inception in 1976, the Hong Kong Sevens has added an important chapter to the global story of rugby. And through its partnership with Laureus Sport for Good, its legacy has extended still further, to the health and wellbeing of the young people of Hong Kong and beyond.
And while Laureus Sport for Good has young people at the heart of its mission, we’re proud to partner in Hong Kong with an organisation which is making a difference to the lives of people with Motor Neuron Disease and the long-term fight for a cure. The My Name’5 Doddie Foundation are holding their annual fundraising dinner – the first since the death of Doddie Weir, the former Scotland rugby international who spent the final years of his life leading the fight against the disease which took him from us in 2022.
As we say in the All Blacks, good people make good teams, and we couldn’t wish for better teammates.
So, for five amazing years of partnership, and for a festival of rugby unlike any other the world over, I’d like to say thank you to the Hong Kong Rugby Union. Together, we are changing lives through the power of sport.