Singapore rugby is set for a huge shot in the arm over the next two days.
The sport will take centrestage at the new 55,000-capacity National Stadium when the inaugural World Club 10s kick off today.
Featuring world class players like Piri Weepu and David Pocock, and top club names including Australia's Brumbies, the Auckland Blues and Biarritz Olympique, fans here are in for a treat, especially when the action explodes at the brand-new stadium at the Singapore Sports Hub.
These are exciting times for the sport here, according to Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) president Low Teo Ping.
In an interview with The New Paper yesterday, Low, 69, explained that staging the 10s and possibly one leg of the Sevens World Series, is all part of a strategy towards boosting youth development in the country.
"We saw the potential in sanctioning an international 10s tournament here, together with organisers Carinet Sports Marketing," said Low.
"But sanctioning was just a small part; SRU needed to make sure that it helps develop Singapore rugby.
"So we did it under the condition that the funds from ticket sales and the sanctioning fee would all go towards our development fund.
"Also, hosting the 10s increases our international stature, and it helps us in our bid for the IRB Sevens Series, for example. So, it's quid pro quo."
Organisers Carinet, who own the Asia Pacific Dragons, decided to make the side the "home" team for this weekend's 10s tournament, and Singapore international Reiner Leong is part of the squad of Asian and Pacific Island stars.
An estimated 12,000 tickets have already been sold for the event, and the figure is expected to hit 15,000 after tournament-day sales.
The current deal will see the World Club 10s event in Singapore for five years, and the National Stadium could also witness the return of the International Rugby Board (IRB) Sevens World Series next year.
The SRU have already informed the IRB of their intention to host one of the 12 legs once again - Singapore staged a leg of the global series from 2002 to 2006.
The IRB are scheduled to hold a council meeting here in October, when the decision could be announced.
"Staging such events propagates the sport," said Low, a former scrum-half for the national Under-23s, who considers rugby his first love.
"When it comes to rugby, most people in Singapore support the All Blacks - but what about club level?
"With football, you have your English teams, so, we hope that the Dragons can be that favoured club for Singaporeans."
Carinet, a Hong Kong-based company, plan to set up an office here and aim to make the Dragons the Asian representatives for the Super Rugby League - the elite club tournament featuring sides from Southern Hemisphere powerhouses Australia, New Zealand and South Africa - competition from 2016 onwards.
Rugby fans here can also look forward to a game between the Maori All Blacks and the Dragons at the National Stadium in November.
The possibility of hosting a clash between the All Blacks and the Wallabies could also become a reality, said Low, especially since a world-class arena is now available in Singapore.
"To be clear, the SRU are not just an event hosting organisation," he said.
"We are here to develop the sport, and to move the region with us. We're talking about 620 million people in South-east Asia.
"We now have a stadium with a retractable roof, we must capitalise on it, and use it to help realise (SRU's) vision of growing the sport."
Since he took charge of Singapore rugby in 2006, Low, who was president of the Singapore Sailing from 1996 to 2008, has instituted a number of new initiatives.
Various players in the national team are given the opportunity to work in the SRU under a paid co-op scheme - either as developmental staff or as academy managers.
Under Low's tenure, the national team have also an increase in local players; from less than 50 per cent before to 75 per cent today.
A representative each from the players, referees, medical and legal teams also sit on the management committee.
The national team maintained their place in Division 1 in Asia this year and in 2015, the SRU have already stated they aim to win gold in the men's and women's sevens tournament when the Republic hosts the South-east Asia (SEA) Games.
"We put in place a holistic structure, so that no area gets overlooked," explained Low, who is also vice-president of the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC).
"Singapore rugby has certainly changed over the last 10 years, especially in terms of financial governance.
"From mounting debts in the past, we now have funds in the reserve. SRU is sustainable now.
"We are also doing something no other NSA (national sports association) is doing. Our guys are working with schools and getting traction for it.
"For the first time, neighbourhood schools like Admiralty Sec, Pioneer Sec and Greenridge Sec, have set up alumni societies, triggered by rugby.
"Before, old-boy associations only existed in traditional rugby schools like RI, ACS and St Andrews.
"Give another three years and the rugby landscape in schools will change even more."
We are already grooming a young bunch of people to take over me; people who are already in the (SRU) set-up. I keep telling them that whoever takes over, just make sure there's a wheelchair ramp at venues, so I can go watch rugby. - SRU president Low Teo Ping
This article was first published on June 21, 2014.
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