China blasted for snubbing World Games in Taiwan
China have been accused of 'not pulling their weight' in the drive to promote the game after refusing to compete in the sevens competition at next month's World Games in Taiwan.
The decision has perplexed the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) as China will be sending more than 100 athletes to compete in other events in Kaohsiung.
The International Rugby Board, keen to make an impression on the International Olympic Committee, invited China to take part in the eight-team sevens event, which kicks off on July 24.
But mainland officials turned down the invitation, resulting in Hong Kong now joining IRB Sevens World Series champions South Africa, Fiji, Argentina, Portugal, the United States, Japan and hosts Taiwan.
'It is really sad that China will not be taking part in the World Games,' ARFU secretary-general Ross Mitchell said yesterday. 'But they have turned down the invitation and it is a concern for us and the IRB as China are not pulling their weight.'
Mitchell refused to speculate on the reason why China will compete in other sports in Kaohsiung but not rugby. It is understood Chinese officials have refused to send teams in two other sports, including tug-of-war.
It is not the first time the Chinese team have refused to play in Taiwan. Last year, during the inaugural HSBC Asian Five Nations, China pulled out of the Division One tournament.
China's pullout will come as a big blow to the IRB, which was banking on the mainland's presence as it makes a final push towards getting rugby sevens into the Olympics. Rugby is among seven sports - along with baseball, golf, softball, roller sports, squash and karate - vying for two available spots in the 2016 Olympics.
The World Games offers the IRB another chance to showcase sevens rugby.
China's loss is Hong Kong's gain, says sevens coach Rodney McIntosh, who will use the opportunity to prepare for the East Asian Games in December and next year's Asian Games in Guangzhou.
'This has come out of the blue and it is pretty tough as we are in-between programmes for both the sevens and 15s teams,' McIntosh said. 'But we are looking at the World Games as a bonus as it gives us another opportunity to play against some of the best sides in the world.'
McIntosh, who will work next season in tandem with head coach Dai Rees, said the last-minute nature of the invitation would leave Hong Kong with little time to prepare.
'We are still canvassing players on their availability and we will only be able to get together for our first training session early in July. But this gives us the opportunity to look at some new faces and also put together a nucleus for the East Asian Games and the Asian Games,' McIntosh said.
Sevens stars Keith Robertson and Rowan Varty - both contracted to the HKRFU - cut short a holiday in Thailand and returned on Tuesday.
Next month's tournament could also see new faces such as 15s specialist No 8 Simon Leung in the running, and also the return of flanker Kwok Ka-chun.
'We need some specialist and robust forwards and we will be looking at Simon and Ka-chun. Although we have been caught off guard by this invitation, we are more than happy to accept it,' McIntosh added.