Changing perceptions crucial for success

Updated: 2016-01-22 08:12

By Sun Xiaochen(China Daily)

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In 2006, when Jacob Taylor first came to China to learn Mandarin at Liaoning University in the northeast of the country, the Australian national had just one concern - where to play rugby, a sport with deep roots in his family.

Taylor soon hooked up with the varsity team at Shenyang Sport University. He attended his first practice session at the university in April 2006, kicking off a 10-year stint that saw him travel back and forth between China and Australia to study and promote rugby.

"The sports market in Beijing has matured since the last time I was here. I can see potential for rugby here beyond the competitive system, to be used as an educational tool or product that kids like to interact with," said Taylor, who is currently studying for a master's degree in Neuroanthropology at Oxford University in England.

The son of former Australian national winger John Taylor, Jacob's resume as a player is compelling; he was vice-captain of the Australian sevens team for three and a half years before a shoulder injury forced him to retire from the professional game in 2013, when he was awarded a scholarship to Oxford.

After a short visit to the 2008 Beijing Olympics to hone his language skills, Taylor returned to China for a longer stay in 2013, when he helped to train the country's under-18 sevens team for the Asian Youth Games before taking up his place at Oxford.

The 28-year-old returned to Beijing in October, planning to stay for six months to conduct academic research while acting as a part-time coach for the Beijing sevens team.

Unlike in Australia, where the game is deeply rooted in the sporting culture, rugby has to overcome cultural hurdles in China to gain a firm foothold, he said.

"The challenge for rugby in China at the moment is changing its branding from a dangerous sport to one that can teach a lot of things. A lot of kids in Beijing end up going to schools in England and Australia, and the exposure to this kind of sport is something that their parents want so that when they get there, they have skills to communicate and common interests," he said.

The growing participation of the Chinese has also drawn the attention of expat groups, inspiring foreign players to share their expertise across the cultural boundary. One such is Brent Abrahams, a math teacher at the Western Academy of Beijing who has lived in China for 10 years, and coached Chinese children at a clinic organized by Beijing's Flying Horse Rugby Football Club on Saturday.

Changing perceptions crucial for success

(China Daily 01/22/2016 page6)