From rice fields to rugby fields in Laos

(IRB.COM) Tuesday 1 April 2014
 
 From rice fields to rugby fields in Laos
Lao Kang, who made her debut with the Laos women's national side last year, was in action in Hong Kong last week - Photo: Dickson Lee/SCMP

Just finding safe places to play sport in Laos, where unexploded bombs from the Indochina wars are still a problem, is difficult enough, but one group of women from the country who have overcome that were in action in Hong Kong last week, a first for them and the city.

Five of the best players from the Vientiane Lions Women’s Rugby Club took to the pitch at the Kowloon Rugbyfest, combining with DeA Tigers to compete in the women’s division.

Lao Kang made her debut with the Laos women’s national side last year, the first person from her small village, Namkongeua, to represent that country on the international stage. Kang has been playing Rugby for less than two years but has wasted no time rising up through the ranks.

“I first saw Rugby being coached in my province and joined in. I'd never seen this sport before and it looked fun. Unlike soccer, you could throw the ball and run with it. I usually play on the wing now,” Kang said, through a translator.

Teamwork, respect and solidarity

“I love the teamwork in Rugby but also the friendliness. In other sports when you win, the other person is forgotten about but in Rugby you shake hands after each match whether you win or lose. There's a lot of solidarity.”

In Laos, the emphasis is on women to work in the fields, cook, clean and look after their family. Rugby does not play much of a part in people’s lives, but it was different for Kang.

“My family are rice farmers but my mother has always encouraged me to play because it makes me happy,” the 22-year-old said.

“It's a bit harder now because I am not around at home to help with the work but they have no problem with it.”

Kang also works as the Laos Rugby Football Union's development officer organising its Rugby project in Xieng Khouang, which was the most bombed province in Laos during the Indochina war.

There are still unexploded bombs

“Although there are more international organisations coming in to clear bombs, it's happening very slowly so it's still not safe. In my village there are still unexploded bombs when you get off the main paths,” Kang said.

“When I was 14 or 15 years old you’d see some unexploded bombs but my parents always told us not to touch them. Other children were not as lucky as us.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of young people have flocked to the sport and Rugby teams are forming across the district thanks to a sport for development project the Union began in 2012 in partnership with the international charity ChildFund Australia.

Kang initially was a youth leader in her village but showed so much promise that the Lao Union hired her to work in their Vientiane office as an intern to support the growing project in Xieng Khouang. Today she acts as a coach and administrator of the game for hundreds of young people in these communities.

“I feel very privileged to play Rugby. Before this I'd never even been to Vientiane… now I'm in Hong Kong thanks to Rugby. I'm very lucky,” she said.

This article first appeared in the South China Morning Post. It forms part of our Around The Regions series exploring the game beyond its traditional heartlands. Do you have an interesting story to tell about Rugby around the world? Let us know by emailing aroundtheregions@irb.com.