Perfect time to groom S'pore pro: Sanzar CEO

A key objective for Sanzar CEO Andy Marinos is to develop and raise the profile of rugby in Singapore and Asia.
A key objective for Sanzar CEO Andy Marinos is to develop and raise the profile of rugby in Singapore and Asia.

As Singaporeans get a taste of elite rugby action - Super Rugby and HSBC World Rugby Sevens - Andy Marinos, the chief executive officer of South African, New Zealand and Australian Rugby (Sanzar), believes the Republic could groom its first professional player in the sport.

Developing and raising the profile of the sport in Singapore and in the Asian region were key objectives for Sanzar in bringing the 18-team Super Rugby league to Japan and Singapore this year.

Singling out players such as South African Bryan Habana and New Zealander Richie McCaw, who represented their respective countries while playing for Super Rugby clubs, Marinos feels that the league is a breeding ground that churns out successive generations of Kiwi, Australian and South African stars.

They are the top three nations in the sport.

"Every year, the league unearths phenomenal talents," he said. "The player bases are sitting all over the world. It's just about how you harness them."

But it will take a while before a Singaporean breaks through to join the elite ranks.

"I don't think right now there's a high concentration of home-grown players," Marinos said. "But, if you can start getting some local guys and bring them through when they are 16 to 21 years old and develop them, who knows, in five to 10 years, a Singapore national would be good enough to earn a place in a Super Rugby team.

"We do see an individual appearing out of nowhere once in a while. There could be one sitting somewhere here in Singapore. If we unearth that athlete, it would be fantastic. That is a long-term objective."

Exposing local players to top-flight competition is a priority for Marinos. He insisted that crowd figures for the Sunwolves' matches at the 55,000-capacity National Stadium will not be an indicator of success.

"I'm aware that we're going to have more empty than full seats (here). But, for me, it's about the product on the field, getting in, establishing rugby as a sport in the market and the enjoyment that people get out of it.

"We're fully aware it's a non-traditional product among Singaporeans. Once people get accustomed and used to it, and you see the benefit of having some of the best players in the world playing in your backyard, that's got value and that's something we're going to build on."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 13, 2016, with the headline 'Perfect time to groom S'pore pro: Sanzar CEO'. Subscribe