HK Sevens success helps Fijians tackle world's best

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 October, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 October, 1999, 12:00am

Fiji's progress in the World Cup is being extra-keenly watched by people within the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU).

After all, Fiji have to thank the HKRFU for partly funding their trip to France, where they remain unbeaten after two games in their Group C preliminary round.

The magic potion which the HKRFU handed over to Fiji came in the form of the US$120,000 winner's purse given to the Cup champions at the Hong Kong Sevens.

The Waisale Serevi-led Fijians have won the plum purse ever since the HKRFU decided - in 1998 - that prize money of US$510,000 was needed to make the Hong Kong Sevens more attractive.

The pressure on Fiji to win this year's Hong Kong Sevens was even greater because the Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) had made it clear that every cent was needed to fund the country's 15-a-side team to the World Cup.

Unlike the HKRFU, the Fiji Union has to count every dollar it spends. It is bankrupt. Reports say that every day the Fijians spend in France is pushing the FRU deeper into the red.

Fiji coach Brad Johnstone said it was a catch-22 situation for Fiji.

'They have to be here to secure sponsorship but they are virtually crippling themselves. Just before we came, we had to run to the Government again because we were in such debt. It might put Fiji back two to three years just being here,' Johnstone, a former All Black prop, said.

Fiji, along with countries like Romania and Namibia, are the poor cousins of world rugby. Such is the paucity of funds for the game in these countries that things which other unions, including Hong Kong, would take for granted are a luxury there.

In all of Romania, there are only two scrum machines and five hit shields. John Phillips, their New Zealand technical director, has also revealed that they have got no tackle bags.

'All these things are lying around in clubs in the rest of the world,' said a sad Phillips.

The game might have gone professional, but the reality is that this is the case only in very few of the 80-odd member nations of the International Rugby Board (IRB).

Without resources, how can smaller countries progress in today's world of professionalism? The gap is just widening between the haves and the have-nots. The IRB must shoulder the responsibility for narrowing the wide gulf. International rugby union has been played for 128 years. But it has only been in the past 12 years, since the first World Cup was played, that the IRB acquired a rich source of funds.

Through its International Rugby Settlement Fund, the IRB has disbursed its largesse widely. But obviously not enough has been done, as evidenced by the plight of Fiji and Romania.

Although the HKRFU had no altruistic motive, it has helped Fiji in a big way with its Sevens jackpot.

So let's sit back and hope Fiji's magic run at the World Cup continues. The crunch game will be against France this Saturday in Toulouse. We are sure the HKRFU will be cheering the boys on.