The Hong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) has announced the formation of an Elite Panel of referees and a new National Referee Academy, marking another step forward for Hong Kong’s officiating ranks. The HKRFU has also launched a Junior Referee Development Programme to support the growing number of aspiring youth referees.
The seven current members of the Elite Referee Panel are Tobi Lothian, Warren Needham, Dewi Rowlands, Gabriel Lee Wing Yi, Tim Baker, Patrick Kwok, Tsz Kin and Matt Rodden.
In addition to managing the premier domestic games and other international fixtures in Hong Kong such as the recent Natixis Rugby Cup, which was refereed by Tim Baker, Elite Panel referees will provide the Asian Rugby Football Union with a high number of referees at test match level. Baker and Rodden are the two most recent Elite Panel members to receive their first test match caps after officiating the recent game between Thailand and Malaysia.
Gabriel Lee Wing Yi also continues to perform well on the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series with upcoming series appointments in Dubai, Atlanta and São Paulo. With her significant experience across the women’s series, Lee remains a front-runner for selection for officiating at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro where rugby sevens will make its debut.
The National Referee Academy will also feature a Senior Referee Development Programme for match officials aspiring to break into the Premiership ranks. HKRFU senior referee development officer Tim Baker will manage the Academy programme.
A separate Junior Referee Development Programme has been created to provide support to the growing numbers of local youth aspiring to become referees; the programme is headed by HKRFU community referee manager Matt Rodden.
There are seven youth referees involved in the first class of the programme with more youth indicating interest to join. The current class is a mix of local Chinese and primarily Hong Kong-born expatriate youth who are now refereeing at various competition levels from age grade and local schools competitions to the women’s 15s league.
The aim going forward is to have clubs help identify more youth to become involved, supplementing the HKRFU Referee management team’s efforts to find interested participants from the wider community.
“We want to throw the net as wide as possible. We won’t exclude anyone purely on age or refereeing ability, unless they are too accomplished and identified as having potential for inclusion in higher level development programmes,” said Matt Rodden.
The most promising members of the current intake will soon be given games in the lower divisions of the HKRFU domestic men’s league. Junior Referee Programme members are encouraged to attend the weekly senior referee fitness training sessions and monthly education sessions held specifically for Programme members.
In these sessions, refereeing-specific skills such as communication, management and control of key phases of the game, pre-match briefings and problem solving on the pitch are addressed, alongside improving the youth’s ability to handle external feedback and self-analysis.
Going forward, significant efforts will be spent on working with junior referees to help them develop their personal skills through sessions on goal setting, preparation and recovery, proper nutrition and drug and lifestyle management. The ultimate aim of the programme is to get these youth referees out on the pitch regularly where Rodden and his fellow referee coaches can observe and coach them in a match environment.
Junior development referees are also invited to join the senior referee development group on social outings and team-building exercises to create mentors for these aspiring match officials.
Fifteen-year old Steven Yuen Kwok Shing is one of the inaugural members of the Junior Development Programme. Yuen, who has played the game for five years across both touch and contact levels and continues to play, soon found himself interested in refereeing. Since joining the development programme, Yuen has refereed the School Boys sevens league, U13s Division I league and served as an Assistant Referee in the Men’s National League competition.
“Being a referee is interesting and rewarding. When I play I follow the referee very closely and I soon became very interested in refereeing. Being a part of the junior referee programme has given me the opportunity to try refereeing. Initially the programme gave me a chance to try refereeing and now it is helping me to further improve my game.”
“I always ask for as many opportunities as I can get to referee because it is the only way to improve,” Yuen added.
The Referee Academies across all age and skill levels were formed with a mission to ensure that local match officials demonstrating the potential to reach the upper tiers of officiating are provided with the necessary specialist support in a variety of areas ranging from fitness and diet and nutrition to game management and analysis.
By providing key criteria across these programmes, referees now have every opportunity of achieving their goals. Hugh Watkins, National Referee Development Manager at the HKRFU, is pleased that the framework is now in place for all local referees.
“With a clear framework now in place, we are working hard to get our referees the best possible advice and support,” said Watkins.