Many may be forgiven for thinking that Fuzhou, whilst capital of the FujianProvince, does not seem much more than a place to work and live, and visit a few places of interest such as Gushan and Xihu. It is not a real tourist attraction, most people preferring to go to Xiamen to sample and enjoy a taste of China that is more inline with what a Western tourist would be able to stomach, and prefer. Therefore, the fact that Xiamen has one of the better rugby teams around is neither a shock nor a surprise, especially with the number of westeners who choose to make Xiamen their home, and bring with them the sport of rugby. However Fuzhou should not be ignored, as I recently found out.
Every Thursday evening at 19:45 to 21:30 and every Sunday afternoon from 15:00 to 18:00 at Fuzhou Intermediate Court, Jinhuan Road, Cangshan District, you will be able to find the local rugby team, and it is not just a few guys throwing a ball around. It is a rugby team. At present there are around 40 members, coming from all walks of life. Some are businessmen, some are students, some are westerners living and working here, but there is a definite mix of everyone, and of all ages. The approximate age, I was informed was around 30, but ages ranged from low twenties to forties.
The club was formed a number of years ago, but the club that plays now, was created by Anderson Wu in 2010, after a previous club disbanded. At the beginning there were only a few players, but over the years it has grown to what it is today. The only patron that the club has is a Rugby specialist, who is able to provide the team with equipment; otherwise they have to privately fund themselves, buying their own shirts, and travel fares to participate in games and competitions.
Anderson Wu, a local from Fuzhou first encountered Rugby whilst studying in Xiamen, and was introduced to the sport by a friend. He went along to the training and was asked to play in a match the following week in Hangzhou. Feeling apprehensive and nervous he agreed. Come the day for the match, thinking that he was too small and would easily get injured, padded himself out in the hope of extra protection and went along to the match. Though he didn’t play that game, the coach having noticed how nervous he was, this did not deter him, and at the next match he did indeed go onto the field and play, even if for a short time. Since then he has slowly fallen in love with the game, and continued to train and play.
When he returned to his hometown, Fuzhou, he joined the local team, but then it disbanded. Having a passion for the sport, he then took charge and created a new rugby team. He changed the name and started recruiting new players to the sport. Having spoken to Anderson, who was happy to provide answers, he told me how difficult it was at first.
“I would have to contact everyone to see if they could come to training, and then send around another text to confirm. There is a punishment if you came five minutes late, you have to do 10 push ups, and if you said you would come and you don’t, you lose respect.”
Understanding how hard it is to fit everything into a busy schedule, Anderson not only works full time, but is also studying for his MBA and is the captain of the rugby team, which is similar to a lot of the other players who work full time and juggle training and rugby around everyday life. Even though many of the players work hard, they also love to go to training, which is evident in the numbers that consistently to turn up to each training session.
Until two months ago, the team did not have a coach, the previous one having left to go back to his home country, so in the past two months, since Eichi arrived, training has been a lot more focused and there seems to be a determination amongst the team.
Eichi is a hard core Rugby fan, having played the sport for 32 years, and now, taking on the role of coach and training the team. When asked about the teams focus at the moment, and what the usual routine is for training, Eichi replied that ‘the most important thing at the moment is working on the members fitness and teaching them basic skills’. This is all with the aim of getting them ready to play as a team in forthcoming matches, mainly against the closest team, Xiamen.
I asked, as a foreigner whether he found it difficult communicating techniques or skills with the team, as English is his second language, Japanese being his first. However, language does not seem to be a barrier. ‘I explain everything in English first, and if they can’t understand me, then other team members, usually Anderson, translate it for the other members.’ There are several foreigners on the team, and it is easiest to use English within training. Most members understand a little English. I then asked whether there were any other problems with coaching rugby in China, to Chinese members, mainly working within a team, and what was, in general China’s opinion of Rugby.
“Most people think it is dangerous and violent. The common sports within China are ping pong and badminton and individual sports. They don’t have a lot of sports where they have to work as a team, which means playing as a team is harder.’”
This is understandable, as with rugby, like football you have to work closely as a team, rather than an individual to be able to pass the ball in the knowledge someone will be backing you up and ready.
Even though most people still consider rugby dangerous and violent, it is through a lack of knowledge about the sport where these perceptions come in. As Anderson said ‘we train to learn the skills and the techniques needed to avoid injury. We are taught abut the contact sport, so it is less dangerous than say basketball, a non-contact sport, where you are not trained in contact and therefore are more likely to get injured if contact is made.’ This should allay a lot of people’s fears, which was obvious as Anderson continued to train after the first match.
As stated previously, at present I have been informed that there are around 40 members, amongst them a few foreigners.
The first foreigner that has already been introduced, is of course the coach Eichi. Eichi is originally fro Japan, and has been living in Fuzhou for just over 2 months now. He travels for his work, but wherever he goes, he seems to manage to find a rugby team, and continue with his hobby. His experience is vital to the team, as he is now training them, using his 32 years of experience playing the sport.
Other foreigners include a Scotsman and two Frenchmen. The Two Frenchmen came to China for placements for their studies, and have, after the initial four months, been offered work here for a further 6 months. They joined the team mere weeks ago, after being approached by Eichi and asked if they were keen to join.
Rugby is a popular sport within France, France having joined in the Six Nations Championship in 1910 and the two players used to play rugby at college, though have not played it since.
The last foreigner, a Scotsman also plays, and again Rugby is a very popular sport in Scotland, and has been played for centuries. These four additions to the team make the Fuzhou Rugby team an international one, and no doubt each member is able to share their understanding and comprehension of the rules amongst the other members.
Most foreigners within China are German, with major German manufacturers based in China, this is not a surprise. However, Rugby is not a popular sport with the European country, and therefore most Germans have not played it before and may be reluctant to join the team. On this note, I would suggest throwing caution to the wind and just joining to have fun learn a new sport, and enjoy the many social events that are also thrown by the team for the team members.
Having asked whether having foreigners play with the team made anything difficult, the answer was no. Everyone and anyone is welcomed to join and enjoy the sport, and it helps to improve others English as well as giving the team some advantage when playing against other foreigners.
Competition within China
As mentioned there are other rugby teams within China, the closest one being in Xiamen. The Xiamen team is comprised of a lot of foreigners. When I asked both Eichi and Anderson whether this would be a disadvantage, a predominantly Chinese team playing against the bulkier and heavier foreigners, they both said no. ‘As we are smaller and lighter we are quicker and easier to slip through tackles. We are taught how to tackle large men, and also how to be tackled safely. I do not think it is a disadvantage.’ With logic like that it would be hard to disagree. The Fuzhou Rugby team will be playing Xiamen later in October, should anybody wish to go and support the team, or join the team in advance so as to play the match.
to be continued…