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10 Milestones from Robbie McRobbie

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

To mark the 10th anniversary of the HKRU Community Foundation, I’d like to share 10 of the key milestones on this special journey.

When we launched the Foundation back in 2013, we were the first Sport-for-Development (S4D) organisation in Hong Kong with a Section 88 charity status. The critical distinction between the S4D sector and mainstream sports development is that the primary goal is not to simply encourage more participation, but it is to use sport as a medium to help tackle social issues - success is not measured by the number of trophies or medals.

My introduction to this concept came in the late 90s while serving in the Hong Kong police - a group of officers led by Ian Seabourne brought together at-risk youths and volunteer police officers using sport as a way of improving relations; the initiative was called Operation Breakthrough. The original sport was boxing, but in 2003 came the first milestone for me, as I helped start Breakthrough Rugby.

All of us involved with Breakthrough were enthusiastic, but we’d never even heard of S4D, and it was only through an introduction by Mal Thompson to Laureus Sport for Good Foundation that we realised there were many other organisations around the world using sport in a similar manner. Breakthrough became a Laureus funded programme in 2005, and the start of that relationship comes in as milestone No 2.

An unexpected by-product of using expat coaches and volunteers with Breakthrough Rugby was the increased level of English proficiency of the boys and girls. So in 2007 with the assistance of our coach Simon Mann, who was also a teacher, we developed Rugby English Active Learning (REAL), and successfully obtained Education Bureau funding to roll out the programme in local schools - that’s my third milestone, and I’m proud to say that REAL continues to this day.

The fourth milestone still has a Breakthrough link. Our HKRU coaches were running courses in the Tuen Mun Boys’ Home, and the climax involved taking the boys out for an afternoon of games with the Breakthrough kids, to encourage them to join upon their release. It was an initiative we were very proud of, and in 2011 it won the Community Programme Award at the International Rugby Expo in London.

At this stage the Foundation still didn’t exist as a legal entity - the impetus to that move came when I attended the first Laureus Global Summit in 2011, milestone No 5. Meeting S4D practitioners from around the world and hearing about their incredibly inspiring work really enthused me personally, and then a trip to the QPR (Queens Park Rangers) Football team’s foundation opened my eyes to what we should do with formalising our own approach and structure.

Which of course led to the sixth milestone the following year when we set up the Hong Kong Rugby Union Community Foundation.

Milestone 7 has to be the first Deaf Rugby tour to Cambodia – working with boys and girls from the deaf community has been a real eye opener but incredibly rewarding, and we went on to employ a deaf coach, Winnie, send a team to the first Deaf World 7s in Australia, and the players are currently raising funds to attend this year’s 7s in Argentina.

I’m going to cheat a wee bit now and use milestones eight and nine to highlight three programmes I am particularly proud of – Prison Rugby, Rugby United and Buddy Rugby. We first went into Cape Collinson Correctional Institution in 2016 with the support of the Correctional Services Department, and subsequently expanded to Pik Uk. Meanwhile Rugby United was born in 2017, a project that Peace Players International helped us develop, using sport as a tool to build cohesion in communities, breaking down prejudice and encouraging friendship, and this is also at the heart of Buddy Rugby which brings together students from Po Leung Kuk special education and mainstream schools.

The 10th and final milestone is easy - over the past six months we have brought on a fantastic new board and gone through a re-branding exercise, which leaves us perfectly positioned to build on the past decade’s efforts and move us on to a whole new level. A new name, new faces, but the same vision – to unite our community through sports and make our city a better place for all.

A journey is always more enjoyable if you share it with companions who share your passion, and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a load of them…all those at Breakthrough of course, particularly Steve Tarrant, but on the Union/Foundation side special mention to Rambo Leung, Brandon Huang, Craig Wilson, Stuart Gunn, Peter Ng, Emmy Chan, Rocky Chow and David Greaves. And finally, thanks to all our sponsors, supporters and friends who have made the journey possible – proving that sport can change lives.

Play for Good – Play for Change – Play for All!


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