PNG players Daniel Pepson, Albert K. Tobby, Angelo Daniel Wak and Bill Tomon. Pic courtesy by Bill Tomon
By Mathew Yakai and Bill Tomon in China
EVER heard of the famous “Ping-Pong diplomacy”?
It’s one of the first public hints of improved U.S.-China relations came on April 6, 1971, when the American Ping-Pong team, in Japan for the 31st World Table Tennis Championship, received a surprising invitation from their Chinese colleagues for an all-expenses paid visit to China.
Time magazine called it "The ping heard round the world." On April 10, nine players, four officials, and two spouses stepped across a bridge from Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland, ushering in an era of "Ping-Pong diplomacy."
They were the first group of Americans allowed into China since the Communist takeover in 1949. This happened during the Cold War period.
Today, diplomacy of all sorts happens between people of different nationalities.
“Rugby Diplomacy” is a right concept that can be used to promote the relationship between China and the Pacific Island countries not on the diplomatic level but through the clashes and crunches of bones on the rugby field.
Currently, there are different diplomacies occurring while this article is written.
It’s happening today in Beijing, thanks to the Pacific Island students, including Papua New Guinea students studying in China under the Chinese Government Scholarship.
They play with the Island Club, The Chevron Beijing Niu Xiongdi Rugby Union Club. Niu Xiongdi is “Beijing Coconut Brothers” in Chinese.
“Coconut”, the delicious nut that is “brown” outside and “white” inside does not apply to these Islanders when it comes to promoting their respective countries on the field as they showcase their warring aptitude with the western introduced rugby ball, nicely integrated into promoting “rugby diplomacy”.
The team was formed in February 2007 by a group of Pacific Island students studying in numerous universities in Beijing.
Plans to form this club, spearheaded by Tongan students Saimone Lavakei'aho and Tupou Vaipulu were however hatched with the assistance of former PNG student Thomas Kugam during the pre-Christmas dinner held at the PNG Embassy on Thursday, 15 December, 2006.
With the sympathetic ear lent to the cause by Chevron boss, Isikeli Taureka, as they say, the rest is history.
Together with the handful of ex-Nongda players led by former Chinese Internationals Leo Li, Niu Jian, Chen Changping, Gao Xuetong, Zhang Xin, Yu Zhang, and Sixiang Ma, the Beijing Xiongdi was set for their inaugural campaign in the 2007 Beijing Cup competition under the presidency of former Beijing devils RFU frontliner, Lahui Ako.
Lahui who was the former First Secretary to the PNG Embassy in Beijing, together with his wife, Daera Ako and Liza Gabina, PNG Embassy 3rd Secretary, had made a significant contribution to the successful establishment of the club.
The club, in its inaugural year is made up of players from China, PNG, Fiji, Vanuatu, FSM, Samoa, Tonga, and Norway.
It has already made two international tours first to Seoul, South Korea on Saturday, 12 May 2007 to play the Seoul Survivors RFU and then in May 2008 to PNG to play the PNGDF (Combined Team).
They have also added the 2007 Shanghai International 7s PLATE Trophy to their slowly growing trophy cabinet with space for many more.
In season 2008, the Club proudly finished first place in the domestic Beijing Cup competition winning the cup, including the tour to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in May 2008 with the tremendous support of CHEVRON China, AMIRA Group and PNGDF.
The Club recently won the “Great Wall Ice-Breaker” Tournament on March 14, 2009 defeating the Shanghai Hairy Crabs (2008 champions) 12 points to nil.
The team was undefeated through out the tournament. The win was a sweet victory after losing to them last year in the semi-finals.
The win was dedicated to those who had worked so hard to get the club to where it is now including the founding members and management.
The Great Wall Ice-Breaker victory would have not been possible without the timely assistance of the “One Day Club”.
“One Day Club” is a new Chinese bar in Beijing, which offered to host the Brothers Rugby Club as their home while studying and playing rugby in Beijing.
Through careful negotiation by the club management led by Army Li, Chen Changping and Saia Uta’atu with the Owner & Manageress of One Day, the Brothers Rugby Club and One Day Bar signed a MOA for partnership in promoting the code of rugby in Beijing and China.
As per the MOA, the Beijing Xiongdi calls the One Day Club their home, where members enjoy 50% off all drinks and 20% off all food.
In return the Brothers players and members will continue to have all their official gatherings at Club house thus promoting its establishment and operation, making it a truly an international bar in Beijing.
The Brothers RFC successfully started season 2009 on a high note by winning the Annual Great Wall Ice-Breaker tournament.
The Brothers also anticipate to host the PNG Defense Force Combined Rugby Union Team, for a return match later this year. Preparation is well underway.
The Great Wall Ice-Breaker tournament marks the start of the new season following the lengthy winter break in Beijing.
It's a 15-a-side event that draws teams from around mainland China. Six teams participated in this year's tournament.
From the two pools, the Shanghai Crabs, Beijing Brothers and Japanese All Stars were in Pool 2.
Beijing Brothers and Shanghai Hairy Crabs qualified for the semi-finals of the Cup competition. Both semis were hard-fought contests in which the Beijing Brothers beat long-time rivals the Beijing Devils 8-0, while the Shanghai Crabs beat Beijing Longbang.
Tight defences, big hits and good counter-attacking rugby were the features of these games.
The final saw the Shanghai Crabs and Beijing Brothers meet for a very competitive contest, which eventually saw the Beijing Brothers beat the Shanghai Crabs by 12-0.
The Brothers were well-organized up front, tight in defence which resulted in no points against them in the semi-final and final.
Their performance suggests that the Beijing Brothers are going to be very tough to be beaten in the 2009 Beijing Cup.
The Club currently has more than 70 financial members and has a player base of 40, composing of Papua New Guineans, Fijians, Ni-Vanuatu, Samoans, Tongans, Micronesians (Federated States of Micronesia), and Chinese.
The club hopes that this base will expand in the new season by players from other regions of the world, due to its success last season.
The current PNG players are Daniel Pepson, Albert K. Tobby, Angelo Daniel Wak and Bill Tomon. Other PNG registered members of the club include, Liza Gabina, Genevieve Igara and Hildagard Rai.
The Club since its formation not only promotes the code of the sports – rugby but also endeavors to promote the diverse culture and traditions of the Pacific Islands people in China.
In September 2007 with the tremendous support from the pacific embassies in Beijing, China hosted the first of its kind “Pacific Islands Cultural Concert for Charity” in support of UNICEF “sports-in-a-box” program.
RMB 30,000 (K12, 000) of the funds raised at the concert was donated to UNICEF to fund its educational programs in China.
Majority of the club members are scholarship students studying under the Chinese Government Scholarship.
The Chinese Government through her Scholarship Council continues to provide scholarship to PNG and other Pacific Island students each year.
The number of students from each island countries increases each year. As the number of islanders in China increases, the Brothers Rugby Club provides the platform for all the islanders to interact with each other and keep their island identity alive.
The Club also helps the islanders to interact with the Chinese and other international communities in Beijing.
The Club is thankful and appreciates the continuous support of the Pacific Island Embassies in China in particular the Embassy of the Kingdom of Tonga and Independent State of PNG.
The Brothers Club also appreciates the Chinese Government commitment for continuously offering Scholarship to Pacific Islanders to study in China.
With the current summer heat, the Island “coconuts” are not aliens to such weather and are expected to run over the “Great Wall” with the mighty ripple effects of “Rugby Diplomacy” throughout the Middle Kingdom.
Yes, at last, the Islanders are playing the highly worshiped rugby game with Chinese in China and can no longer wait for Australia and New Zealand to show them their footy shows.
Note: Part of this article was contributed by Bill Tomon, a PNG student in Beijing and one of the founding members of the club. Further information, contact Bill on e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org