Republished from www.gosports.com.my
A chance meeting between two Hong Kongites in Taiwan helped set the foundation for the game of kabaddi in Hong Kong.
The meeting took place in Taipei when Wong Wai Chuen, was studying at the University of Taipei, and had just taken up the sport at the university. Wyman Tang, a lecturer in anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong was in Taiwan to research on the development of kabaddi in Taiwan.
That was in March 2017 and today Wai Chuen is the captain of the Hong Kong national kabaddi team while Wyman not only heads the Hong Kong Kabaddi Sports Union (HKSU) but is also an executive committee member in the global governing body, World Kabaddi.
Wai Chuen describes his journey on the kabaddi court as Fu Jeun Gam Loi (A Cantonese saying that means ‘It’s the rewards of suffering’). It could well also describe the story of Hong Kong kabaddi.
“When we first met, he (Wyman) told me that he wanted to promote kabaddi in Hong Kong and needed a coach to do that. I was a bit doubtful of that since there was no kabaddi in Hong Kong and it would be extremely difficult to start from scratch,” said Wai Chuen.
The 25-year-old, himself only picked up the game in his sophomore year in Taiwan, having no inkling of kabaddi before that.
“I could not understand why a university professor would be interested in doing this. But when I returned to Hong Kong for summer vacation, Wyman called me and told me that he’s looking for a kabaddi coach for his summer class. It was only then that I realised that he was serious to develop kabaddi in Hong Kong,” admitted Wai Chuen.
Wai Chuen, who pursued a Physical Education degree in Taiwan after finishing high school in Hong Kong, said that he had fallen in love with the game immediately after trying it at the invitation of his course mates from Taiwan and also because he had always had an affinity for contact sports.
Unlike Hong Kong, kabaddi was introduced in Taiwan in 2008 and the University of Taipei was one of the first higher learning institutions to develop the game in the country.
“Wyman not only asked me to teach kabaddi in Hong Kong but also invited me to do the planning and administrative work as well. This gave me a precious opportunity to learn about sports management,” said Wai Chuen.
Wai Chuen was one of the several foreign players outside India, to be selected for the inaugural Indo International Premier Kabaddi League last year.
“In Hong Kong, very few people know about this game. No people have ever imagined there would be a Hong Kong kabaddi team. My friends and family totally supported me playing kabaddi and they are proud to see that we were able to form a team and bring the team to the international stage. Whenever there is live broadcast of my kabaddi games, they’ll watch the games to support me!” said Wai Chuen.
He added that playing the sport had also opened a whole new world to him. In Taiwan, he had the opportunity to play in various Taiwanese national tournamenst including the President Cup.
“When I joined my university kabaddi team, I faced many challenges. Kabaddi is very competitive in Taiwan, and my university team is one of the top-notch teams. Our coach required us to train very hard to keep the high standard, said Wai Chuen.
He added that his coach was not happy with the progress he was making and was dejected with the situation. Wai Chuen admitted that it was the support and encouragement from his friends that helped him progress.
“I used to be weak in raiding. I always asked myself, “how come I can’t touch the defenders like others?” After many trials, I could finally touch the defenders. Till now, I still remember that moment of joy: “I nailed it!” It’s the rewards of suffering,” said Wai Chuen.
The competitiveness in Taiwan, helped Wai Chuen take up his new role in Hong Kong with added vigour and confidence.
“I feel very thankful for my Hong Kong teammates. I had never been a kabaddi coach, not to mention a national team. But all my Hong Kong teammates trusted me,” said Wai Chuen, who also led the Hong Kong team to the Melaka World Cup Kabaddi last year.
“We were new. It’s difficult for us to make significant improvement to become as strong as other national teams in a short period of time. It’s basically “mission impossible” but all my teammates were still totally committed to this game. I am really proud of them,” said Wai Chuen, who is also into basketball and swimming.
Wai Chuen ranked the experience playing at the World Cup as one of the highlights of his budding kabaddi career.
It was in Melaka that Hong Kong picked up their first ever international victory in the sport.
“We played against Norway in the World Cup. We had lost all the matches before this game, and many of us had picked up injuries. At half-time, we were trailing by three points. Yet, we told ourselves, “We have to do our best without any regrets,” said Wai Chuen.
The Hong Kong side turned the tables in the remaining two quarter of the match and notched up a memorable victory by three points.
“When I heard the umpire blowing the whistle, I knelt on the ground and put my arms in the air, enjoying the moment of victory,” said Wai Chuen, who just two years earlier was skeptical of making the journey.
While the player still sees many hurdles in developing the sport in Hong Kong, is also encouraged by the progress done so far.
“Kabaddi is a minority game in Hong Kong. We do not have regular training venues or many players. But with its colonial history, Hong Kong has many South Asian population that is an advantage,” said Wai Chuen.
He added that the HKSU has been promoting kabaddi in schools and communities interested in promoting ethnic integration through sports.
“Many schools and NGOs have been collaborating with us to promote kabaddi. In our kabaddi demonstration and classes, many participants showed strong enthusiasm. I believe the number of players will grow in the future,” said Wai Chuen.
He added that at the elite level they still face problems of their own.
“We have no regular venue. For our every practice, we need to use 30 minutes to place the mats. After finishing our practice, we need to put them back to the storeroom. Furthermore, we can only have practice two to three times a week, which is not enough,” he added.
He was, however, full of praise of his teammates.
“Our team members are still very committed to this game. The commitment and teamwork have partially compensated for our inadequacy in training. But I still hope that we can have a regular venue to have more training sessions in a week,” said Wai Chuen.
He said that kabaddi being a team sport had instilled unity and commitment.
“You’ll never walk alone when your teammates are always there for you. No pain no gain,” said Wai Chuen.
In less than three years since the chance meeting in Taipei, kabaddi in Hong Kong is in good hands, and with pioneers like Wai Chuen and Wyman at the forefront.
“Because of kabaddi, I got so much new exposure, like travelling to different cities and meeting many interesting people. This greatly enhanced my self-confidence,” added Wai Chuen.