News of Asian Games qualifier takes HK by surprise
Taken by surprise at having to qualify, Hong Kong will face a tough time booking their berth to the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar even though eight places are up for grabs at the qualifying tournament in Sri Lanka in September.
The Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) has decided that the Singer-SriLankan Airlines International Sevens in Kandy from September 9-11 will be the qualifying for the Asian Games. The move has surprised local officials with Hong Kong originally not due to take part in the tournament.
'We have not begun our preparations. No squad has been picked and there has been no training as we were not aware that the Sri Lankan Sevens would be a qualifying tournament for the Asian Games until a few days ago,' said a spokesman for the Hong Kong Rugby union.
This is the third time that sevens is an Asian Games medal sport with South Korea having won gold in Bangkok (1998) and Pusan (2002). There was no qualifying process at previous Games but with the spread of rugby across the region, the Asian union has been forced to implement a qualifying process as a limited number of teams can enter.
Twelve teams will take part in the qualifying tournament. They are Arabian Gulf, China, Kazakhstan, Guam, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and hosts Sri Lanka.
And if past form is any indicator, the SAR face a difficult task trying to qualify for another Asian Games mainly due to eligibility requirements - which already rule out expatriate players - possibly being tightened further.
'The eligibility requirements currently state that those players born in the country they wish to represent, or those who are citizens can play. But we believe there are moves afoot to review this, and it could only allow players who have a Hong Kong passport to represent the SAR,' said the HKRFU spokesman.
If this were to happen, prominent sevens players like Andy Chambers, Rowan Varty, Ricky Cheuk Ming-yin and Alex Gibbs, all of whom played at the World Cup Sevens in March, could be ruled out. Despite being born in Hong Kong, they don't hold local passports. Cheuk and Gibbs played at the last Asian Games.
Pang Chung, secretary general of the Hong Kong Olympic Committee, however, gave an assurance that a player born in Hong Kong would be able to play even if he didn't have a local passport.
'All he will have to show is a birth certificate stating that he was born in Hong Kong. While the Asian Games is for Asian or those of Asian parentage, people born in the country they wish to represent, will be allowed to take part,' said Pang yesterday.
Even with a full complement of players, Hong Kong will be hard-pressed to qualify. With Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China and hosts Sri Lanka the early favourites to qualify, the SAR face the prospect of battling it out for the remaining three berths with Thailand, Malaysia, Kazakhstan and Singapore.
At the last Asian Games in Pusan, the SAR lost all their group matches - 45-10 to Japan, 29-0 to Taiwan and 28-14 to China.
Sri Lankan organisers have placed India, Pakistan and the Philippines on standby in case of last-minute withdrawals. With this being an Asian Games qualifying tournament, the Sri Lankan Sevens will be open only to Asian countries, ruling out the likes of Georgia, Germany, Portugal, France, Denmark and Belgium who had all shown interest in taking part.