Rugby player’s ‘seven-year itch’

CUHK athlete Fong Kit-fung makes his mark at his debut HK Sevens

A star of CUHK shone on the international sporting stage last month, on home soil, at the Hong Kong Sevens. Fong Kit-fung, a year 2 student of Physical Education, twice scored points against Japan, helping the Hong Kong men’s team to triumph just as the three-day event was wrapping up its last games.

The achievement was memorable in a myriad of ways – it was Fong’s debut at the Sevens, his first-time scoring tries in a rugby competition, and an opportunity to finally experience Hong Kong’s rugby home tournament after more than 10 years of playing the sport. The young man, who enrolled in the University through the Student-athlete Learning Support and Admission (SALSA) Scheme, talks to CUHK In Focus about rugby, the game he calls “the love of my life”.

Photo courtesy of interviewee

Start of a great passion

Fong, now 27, playing with his friends was crucial as he grew up. Chances to hang out with them and have fun were invariably more important than anything else. Studies took a backseat, but what his Band 3 secondary school did for him was that it became the place where he found his niche in rugby.

“In Form 2, my physical education teacher wanted to form a rugby team and called for applicants. Since my friends were joining the team, I followed their footsteps. After all, it wouldn’t hurt to try something new – and more importantly, I got to play with my friends!” says Fong with a chuckle.

“I lacked interest in studies but was particularly into playing rugby. I was looking forward to the after-school practice sessions every day.”

He also tried other sports, such as the long jump and dragon dance, but felt they fell short of motivating him. “Rugby has a unique charm,” he says. “For instance, a small mistake in dragon dance will lead to failure. But in rugby, it’s different. Even if we are in a losing position at first, we can still come from behind to beat our opponents.”

Seven years well spent

As a global competition, the Sevens attracts rugby greats and enthusiastic audiences from all over the world. It had been held at the Hong Kong Stadium since 1982, and 2024 marked the last year before the Sevens moves to a brand-new venue at Kai Tak Sports Park.

On 7 April, a carnival atmosphere reigned at the stadium as sportspeople and fans bid farewell to the iconic venue. It was on such a memorable night, in the inaugural Melrose Claymores tournament, that Fong scored the two tries, “the first time in my career”.

While spectators applauded him and cheered for his triumph over the Japan team, little did they know how far he had come, through the long years since becoming a full-time athlete in 2017. Before 7 April, he had never had a chance to prove himself at the Sevens.

Photo courtesy of interviewee

“This experience was like a dream to me,” he says. “It was definitely not easy to earn one of the 13 spots among a group of 30 athletes. The seven years of full-time training were not in vain.”

Those years included the COVID-19 pandemic, when barely any competitions were happening. He began questioning himself and feeling hopeless.

“I didn’t give up, though, despite not being selected for the Asian Games last year,” Fong says. He strove to seek breakthroughs and changed from being a flanker to a number 8 so that the coach would notice his versatility. His hard work eventually paid off as he passed the selection to join the team for the Sevens.

Fong loves playing rugby as much as the audience enjoys watching the thrilling action on the pitch. Recalling the stadium scene, he says, laughing: “The audience cheered and clapped so loudly that I could not hear my teammates clearly. Yet, I felt very happy to see them supporting us all the way.

“After scoring the two tries, I was too tired and nervous to celebrate like many players would. When I think about it now, that was definitely a remarkable moment which raised my spirits!”

“Know me by my name”

The star in Fong was apparent as early as 2017, when he was just getting started in competitive rugby. People called him “the successor to Salom Yiu Kam-shing”, the veteran player on the professional Hong Kong team.

“I wish people would know me by my name,” he says. “I didn’t have the opportunity to showcase my abilities when I was young. Now that I have grown more mature, my goal is to give my best performance every time I compete. Rather than being a ‘successor’, I hope people can witness my progress, my growth and my breakthroughs.”

At CUHK, Fong is a student at the United College and a member of the University’s Rugby Team. Having played with locals and foreigners, he notes: “Local students who mostly play rugby as a hobby are more reserved in the game. Foreigners, on the other hand, are more adventurous and aggressive. They tend to explore different ways of playing because they believe this is how they can improve their skills.” 

Fresh from the euphoria of the Sevens, Fong’s next target is fast looming: to represent Hong Kong in the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series in Munich this month. Speaking of his long-term goals, he tells CUHK in Focus: “I hope to strike a balance between playing rugby and studying. More importantly – athletes are all Olympics hopefuls, and so am I!”

By Gillian Cheng
Photos by San

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