INDEPENDENT states Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are set to add much-needed spice to the troubled Hongkong international handball tournament.
The event has been rescheduled for April 9-11 at the Kowloon Park Indoor Games Hall after originally being called off last December when the Hongkong Amateur Handball Association had trouble obtaining sponsorship.
HKAHA officials are hoping that the probable participation of the former Soviet republics will boost interest in the event and help them sign last-minute sponsorship deals.
Kazakhstan will be joining Olympic champions South Korea, China and Taiwan in the women's competition, but Uzbekistan have yet to confirm their participation in the men's tournament.
HKAHA secretary Lee Ping-kwan said: ''The two Soviet states heard about our tournament from the Chinese and they approached us seeking invitations.
''We are providing all teams with free hotel accommodation but Uzbekistan have also asked us to pay for their passage, which we had to say no to because of our shortage of funds.
''We have yet to hear from them again but if they do not reconfirm by March 12, then the invitation will go to Australia.'' Uzbekistan will be vital to the success of the event as they provided some members of the Commonwealth of Independent States' Unified Team which won the Barcelona Olympic Games last year.
They are the only team capable of offering a reasonable challenge to the South Koreans, the undisputed kings of Asian men's handball.
The South Koreans are favourites for the women's title on the strength of their gold medal at last year's Olympic Games and their complete domination of Asian handball. But Kazakhstan should offer strong opposition.