HKRFU chairman says sevens focus may put China's 15s game at risk
China's steady decline in Asia gathered speed as they were demoted to Division Three in next year's HSBC Asian Five Nations - raising concerns the country is now putting all its resources into the sevens game at the expense of the longer version.
A crushing 56-3 loss to Thailand in the relegation play-off match in the Division Two tournament in New Delhi means China will be playing with the smallest fish next year.
'This is very serious,' said Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman Trevor Gregory. 'If they are more interested in sevens than 15s, it is a huge concern. I hope this is not the case.'
Officials from the Chinese Rugby Union were not available for comment. China was not even represented at the Asian Rugby Football Union's executive committee meeting in Kuala Lumpur last week.
'There was no one from China. We don't know what is happening over there,' Gregory said. 'We are all concerned ... China should be playing in the top five (alongside Japan and Hong Kong) instead of being in Division Three.'
China had earlier been routed 94-0 by India, and this latest loss adds weight to the feeling that mainland rugby authorities have lost interest in the 15-a-side game in preference to sevens, which is now an Olympic sport.
'Any sport which is in the Olympics will get more attention from China,' said a Hong Kong official with close links to sport on the mainland. 'Now that sevens is in the Olympics, all the provinces will have to field a team at the [China] National Games and it seems this is their main goal now.'
Gregory believes emphasis on sevens will be a huge mistake as the International Rugby Board frowns on unions taking that path.
'The IRB has said countries must have credible 15s programmes otherwise they run the risk of losing membership,' he said. 'If this were to happen, China wouldn't be able to play at the Olympics.'
After a promising beginning on joining the IRB in 1997, China have gone into decline. The days of looking like a team who could one day compete against the likes of Japan and South Korea, are a distant memory.
'We don't want China languishing at the bottom. It is not good for rugby in Asia,' Gregory said.
Meanwhile, the Philippines, who joined the IRB after China, won promotion to Division One next year after beating India 34-12 in the final.
The number of points that China scored in the Division Two relegation play-off against Thailand: 3