Hong Kong no match for Japan on debut
International Rugby Board (IRB) chairman Vernon Pugh watched 1999 World Cup hopefuls Japan beat Hong Kong 40-0 in their Pool B game with a smile on his face yesterday at the Games seven-a-side rugby competition.
Pugh's Mona Lisa impersonation had little to do with the match, but more with the prospect of the game that he is in charge of becoming a medal sport at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
'The fact that rugby is a medal sport for the first time at the Asian Games does its chances of entering the Olympic Games a great deal of good. These Games will boost the profile of rugby even further,' said Pugh at the Thai Army Stadium.
The IRB is currently in the process of talking to the International Olympic Committee about its sport's bid to join the list of Olympic awardees by 2004.
Pugh had talks with the Belgium's IOC executive board member Jacques Rogge yesterday and described it as very useful.
Rugby union was also a medal sport at the Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games earlier this year.
'It is great to have rugby as part of this huge multi-sport event. It is historic. It is also very enterprising of the Asian Rugby Football Union to have convinced the Games organisers to hold both 15-a-side and sevens competitions here,' said Pugh.
According to Pugh, rugby could enrich the Olympic Games immeasurably.
'We could add a great deal to the Olympics. Rugby can guarantee full stadiums . . . television has a great interest in the game and it will be a spectacle,' said Pugh.
He said that if rugby was given the Olympic nod, the IRB would insist that teams bring their best players.
'We would not be like soccer where it is only reserved for the under-23s. We would want teams to field their top sides. At the Commonwealth Games, New Zealand and Fiji had their top players. The professional New Zealand players told me that it was one of their biggest thrills to win the gold medal,' said Pugh.
Unfortunately for Hong Kong, they were not in that class. The SAR put up a brave fight against Japan, but lacked the pace to make any real impression on their opponents.
Japan scored six tries as they easily defeated the Rambo Leung-led local team.
And in their second Pool B game, Hong Kong were beaten by Thailand 28-12 to drop out of medal contention.