Full-time contracts to play rugby sevens are in the pipeline as Hong Kong set their sights on becoming a core team on the HSBC Sevens World Series next season.
Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman Trevor Gregory said yesterday the board of directors has already decided to throw its full support behind the sevens squad if they are successful in clinching one of three spots available at the qualifying tournament at the London Sevens in May.
"All the directors were unanimous that if we qualify we will back our squad," Gregory said. "How we do it has not been decided as yet. We will wait and see what happens in London, but on principle, if we do qualify we are not going to say we can't handle it. We will support a team which will play in all the legs of the world series next season."
It would be the first time full-time contracts would be on offer since 2008 when the union contracted a handful of players, including current sevens captain Rowan Varty. That experiment was shortlived, but this time the union is in a better position, especially with the men's sevens team entering the Hong Kong Sports Institute as an elite sport next month.
"Getting into the sports institute will be a massive help. Not only will it assist us in the world series, but we can also look at Olympic [2016 Rio de Janeiro] qualification," Gregory said.
"We had a massive chance of becoming a core team last year if not for the incident in the Japan game [Keith Robertson being red-carded in the opening minutes for a spear tackle] but I guess there was a collective sigh of relief [from the union directors] that we didn't," Gregory said.
"But now we are in a better position. We are the Asian champions and we will soon be in the Sports Institute. If our guys are good enough to qualify, I would say 'bring it on'."
Up-and-coming player Josh Peters, 19, admitted a full-time contract would be a powerful incentive to put his work career on hold.
"I will definitely grab the opportunity if I'm given a full-time contract," said Peters, who represented Hong Kong two seasons ago at the Goa Sevens.
"If rugby joins the Sports Institute, the money will be available and I would follow my dream of one day playing in the Olympics."
Peters is in his first year at HKU Space where he is doing a sports coaching management course.
Hong Kong would become the first team sport to gain elite entry in more than a decade after the men's sevens squads, both senior and junior, gained exceptional results on the Asian stage. The senior team won a silver medal at the 2010 Asian Games and were crowned Asian sevens champions last season.
This will now result in rugby sevens becoming the 16th sport at the elite training academy in Sha Tin, resulting in millions of dollars in annual subvention. Among the financial benefits from the SI is the provision for a head coach with an annual package of HK$1.6 million, and maximum monthly grants of HK$32,000 for players.
Hong Kong, along with the four teams that make it through the pre-qualification tournament next weekend, as well as the three bottom-placed teams in the series after the Scotland leg, will play in an eight-team qualifier in London.