​Foreign “sports missionaries” make their mark in Vietnam

Hailing from around the globe, these athletes have made it their passion to contribute to the country’s athletic appetite.

Participants at the Vietnam Hockey Festival 2017.

The growing popularity of foreign sports, such as hockey and rugby, in Vietnam began with foreigners who have made it their passion to feed the country’s athletic appetite.

James Chew, a Singaporean businessman credited with introducing hockey to Vietnam is just one of these athletes. 

Chew began working in the country ten years ago but refused to leave his love for hockey behind in Singapore.

In 2007, he hosted the first Hockey Festival in Vietnam, growing the event over the past ten years to include 400 participants and an audience of several hundred.

 “Apart from family and work, hockey is also my life,” said Chew.  “I used to be a professional hockey player in Singapore,” he added. 

Not only does he focus on recruiting players to the sport, Chew also covers equipment and pitch rental fees.

“Vietnamese people don’t know much about hockey. I have to build everything from the ground up.”

Chew’s dedication to promoting the sport has paid off – the country now boasts a hockey federation and national team.

The businessman also visits schools with Huynh Dai Phuc, the national team’s coach to invite students to try their hand at hockey. 

“It isn’t easy,” said Phuc.

“Hockey uses sticks, which makes people think it is dangerous. But those who try it realize that it is totally safe.  We try to make our sport stand out, to make it look exciting and energetic so that people, especially youngsters, join us.”

Vietnam’s hockey community is centered in the southern province of Long An, where chew ensure that everything is paid for. 

Starting with just a small group of players, the community now has four established teams – a local team called the Hockey Tornados, a team at Ton Duc Thang University in Ho Chi Minh City, two female teams at local companies.

James Chew (fifth from the left) posing with hockey players
James Chew (fifth from the left) posing with hockey players

As with Chew, businessman Angelo Pillay from Sri Lanka has been successful in turning his passion into a popular sport in Vietnam.

It all started when Pillay arrived in Vietnam and joined a cricket community comprised of foreigners to satisfy his craving for his country’s national sport.

After a while, Pillay made it his mission to grow the cricket community.

Now, he is the president of the Vietnam Cricket Association.

“After twenty-six years in Vietnam, I consider this my second home,” Pillay said.

“My wife and my friends love cricket and I want my kids to love it too.

“It helps connect my family and our community.”

Bouldering has also become popular in Vietnam thanks to Cedric Deguilhem, a French national who left a stable job in his home country to pursue his interest in Vietnamese culture.

Since arriving in the country, Deguilhem has started a family, a new job, and established a bouldering center and a club in Ho Chi Minh City.

The club’s participation at several international competitions has led Deguilhem to promise that Vietnam will be represented at future international events, following in the footsteps of hockey and cricket which both competed at the Southeast Asian Games in 2017.

The Vietnam’s cricket team.
The Vietnam’s cricket team.

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