British & Irish Lions rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll speaks at the HSBC World of Opportunity workshop at the 2021 Dubai Sevens
British & Irish Lions rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll speaks at the HSBC World of Opportunity workshop at the 2021 Dubai Sevens Image Credit: Supplied

British & Irish Lions rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll has described the growing enthusiasm for rugby among young Emiratis and UAE expats as “brilliant”, as he marked this weekend’s return of the Emirates Dubai Sevens by hosting a unique coaching course for local teenagers eyeing a career in sport.

Ireland’s record try scorer was on-site at the Sevens Stadium to pilot a new HSBC initiative giving young people a taster of the different roles they could pursue in sport that lie away from the pitch.

Called HSBC World Of Opportunity, the new programme provides group workshops spanning a variety of topics including journalism, coaching, event management, promotion and operations, at each stop on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tour calendar.

The debut session took place on Thursday morning, where O’Driscoll and England World Cup winner turned commentator Nolli Waterman — both HSBC ambassadors — talked a group of Dubai youngsters through how to gain a new perspective on what it really takes to stage an iconic international rugby sevens event — and how a career in elite level sport does not have to mean being an athlete.

O’Driscoll explained: “This morning was really all about informing the next generation that participation is just one part of sport — that there’s so many other components that go into creating an event like the Dubai Sevens. There are hundreds of jobs involved in an event like this, and if sport is your passion but you’re not going to get to the competitive piece, then why not try and find a way into being involved in sport? That could be through branding, media, marketing, PR, refereeing or coaching, for example. There are so many other aspects to sport people can be part of.

“There’s an energy that comes with sports events that you can feel when you’re here: it’s hard to come and socialise and enjoy that, then go back to a gig you don’t like, so why not try and find something you’re really into and develop a career around that? That’s what we were trying to communicate today.”

O’Driscoll’s glittering career as captain of the British & Irish Lions, Ireland and Leinster took him around the world competing. Since retiring, the 42-year-old has taken on different roles within sport, such as a commentator and analyst, and event/sponsor ambassador.

With the latter, O’Driscoll has made the trip out to the Emirates Dubai Sevens four times. He admitted that meeting the young Emirati rugby players involved in HSBC’s World Of Opportunity Programme at the Emirates Dubai 7s today was an eye-opener in terms of how much the game has grown in the UAE.

“I think I’ve been coming here five years now,” said the World Rugby Hall of Famer. “Being here now speaking to young Emirati kids who have taken up rugby — that’s the real progression. The level of enthusiasm from them is brilliant to see and huge credit to HSBC for helping drive that. I think 500,000 kids have experienced sport for the first time through their grassroots initiatives, which is an amazing number. If even a fraction of them have the passion some of us have for sport, then that’s a great thing.”

Waterman, who co-hosted Thursday’s session with O’Driscoll — where she focused on carving a career in media and sports journalism — said she hoped to instill a self-belief in the Dubai teenagers with her own powerful story.

She said: “When HSBC first asked me if they could share my story in a documentary, Finding Her Voice, which was published earlier this year, I hoped that by sharing my personal journey in the world of sports media, more young people would gain the confidence to step outside of their own comfort zone and believe they can do whatever they want.

“I have been given a number of incredible opportunities, but it is important that we continue open up the pathways to jobs in the sports media, sports promotion and coaching to as wide a group as possible. That’s the simple idea that sits at the heart of this pilot, which I hope to see grow in 2022 and beyond.”

HSBC has been partner of the World Rugby Sevens Series for over 10 years and in that time has been committed to driving meaningful change across the series, playing a crucial role in the coming together of the men’s and women’s series to position rugby sevens as a leader in gender equality in sport.

Central to HSBC’s partnership with rugby sevens is its desire to build a sustainable and accessible future for the sport. The global rugby grassroots programme has opened up opportunities for tens of thousands of girls to pick up a rugby ball and play the game, often for the very first time.

Commenting on the initiative, Sven Gloor, Senior Manager, HSBC Global Brand Partnerships, said: “Opportunities should be available to everyone and the goal here is to give young people a taste of the different career opportunities available in sport beyond the pitch. This is something that sits very much at the heart of our business. HSBC has always tried to use its global network, capabilities and perspective to create new opportunities for the communities it operates in.

“We recognise what a challenging last 18 months it’s been for everyone, including the sports world and those on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. Which is why we don’t just want to celebrate being back on the pitch. We want to try and build back better off it, in a way that creates more opportunities for more people. If this pilot goes well, we’ll be looking to do something similar at future Series legs.”

O’Driscoll said he was delighted to see the return of the Emirates Dubai Sevens, adding: “It’s a great event, great fun. I love the fact it’s everyone competing: men, women, golden oldies, people who think they can still do it, but they can’t — but they’re still giving it a crack! It is an event that has really, really grown year-on-year and it’s good to have it back.”

Asked if he would have liked to pull on his boots in his earlier life to enjoy playing in the unique atmosphere of the Dubai Sevens, O’Driscoll added: “I really would have. I don’t know if this skin complexion would’ve taken to the heat too kindly, so from that point of view I’d have gone back a very different colour than I came out as.”