AsianInvestor and FinanceAsia are pleased to announce the signing of a deal to become shirt sponsors of SCAA Causeway Bay Rugby Football Club for the 2011-12 season.

Haymarket Media Group, which owns the two finance titles, is closely associated with sport. In the UK it is the official media supplier for Manchester United and the Uefa Champions League, and is the official publisher of London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic programmes and one-off publications.

The media company also distributes its various sports magazines throughout Asia and produces local language versions of manutd.com in simplified Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

Although Haymarket does not produce a sports title in Asia yet (this writer would appreciate any encouragement in that direction, readers), the links between rugby and finance in Hong Kong are inextricable.

Last year, HSBC was unveiled as the first title sponsor of the International Rugby Board World Sevens series (the Hong Kong leg will be held on March 23-25 next year). The bank also sponsors the Hong Kong national team and the Asian Five Nations Championship.

“Rugby is a game that is hugely popular in Hong Kong, both among the financial community and the rest of the city’s population, with the world famous Sevens event held every year,” notes Jon Hirst, publisher of AsianInvestor and FinanceAsia, and the man behind the deal.

“Haymarket has strong links with the world of sport, and we believe this agreement will offer our finance titles increased recognition, while at the same time helping to support a sport at grassroots level that several of our own staff participate in.”

David Knights, chairman of Causeway Bay RFC, suggests that rugby presents a positive image, which he argues is why financial firms are prepared to get involved in sponsorship — aside from the fact that a number of people within finance have played or continue to play the sport.

“I believe you can draw similarities between the ethos of playing rugby and of working in a financial institution,” he adds. “Both are massively dependent on teamwork and competing aggressively in an environment where results matter.

“Equally there is a significant social element. Wherever you are from, participating in rugby will always win you friends and to some extent open doors. Rugby can be a real ice-breaker.”

Knights offers a finger-in-the-air estimate that at least a third of the club’s approximately 300 playing members are involved in finance in one way or another.

But while it is widely acknowledged that rugby union is still more popular among the city’s expatriate population than it is with local Chinese residents, SCAA Causeway Bay RFC is among those organisations endeavouring to inspire greater universal interest in the sport.

The club has just announced an alliance with the South China Athletic Association (SCAA), which at more than 100 years of age is one of Hong Kong’s oldest and largest sports clubs.

The tie-up, which is not financial, will see the SCAA promote rugby to its membership of more than 50,000, with Causeway Bay RFC effectively acting as its rugby arm. In turn, the rugby club’s members, who play at So Kon Po in Causeway Bay, will use SCAA’s neighbouring facilities.

New Zealand-born Sam Pinder, who played professional rugby for Glasgow Warriors for six years as a scrum-half and even won a couple of caps for Scotland in 2006, is now employed by the Hong Kong RFU and has worked as Causeway Bay RFC’s coach since 2009.

He says involvement in rugby is increasing across the board in Hong Kong, which he estimates has more than 20 rugby clubs and 60 teams that compete in five male and two female divisions, as well as a development division for players new to the game.

Part of his role with the Hong Kong RFU is to oversee participation in rugby by Chinese schools. “We have rugby programmes in a number of schools and it has definitely taken off,” he says. “Good numbers now take part in tournaments and the success we have had over the past two years has been phenomenal. We are always eager to bring more boys and girls into the game.”

SCAA Causeway Bay itself has a junior colts division with under-14s, under-16s and under-18s teams. Pinder points out that youth involvement is an area the club is striving to develop and it is eager to introduce a minis-league in association with SCAA next year.

“The number [of local players] within our club has increased strongly over the last two years,” he adds. “Last year, for example, we put in two new teams into the development division for first-time players, and that is primarily all Chinese based.”

As for the new shirt sponsorship deal, Pinder offers a word of appreciation: “Sponsors are hard to get, so if anyone comes in and puts money towards your club to help it become more successful, it’s very welcome. We are very much looking forward to developing the relationship and hope to do well on the field to get AI and FA in a few pictures with some trophies in.”

As for the Rugby World Cup, to be played in New Zealand from September 9 to October 23, both Pinder and Knights are tipping the hosts to lift the trophy for the first time since 1987. However, neither is ruling out two-time champions and current Tri-Nations holders Australia.