Hong Kong Sevens
The Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2013 is an international rugby tournament that begins on Friday March 22 and features 28 of the world's top rugby teams.
China's rugby team fail to qualify for the 2013 Hong Kong Sevens
China's failure to qualify for next year's Hong Kong Sevens will hamper their preparations for the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016
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China's Olympic dream has suffered a huge setback with confirmation they will miss next year's Hong Kong Sevens after failing to finish in the top three in the overall rankings at the HSBC Asian Sevens Series.
The Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens in March has been expanded to 28 teams and will serve as a pre-qualification tournament for core-team status in the HSBC Sevens World Series in 2013. But China's failure to make it to Hong Kong - they have been to every tournament since their debut in 1998 - means they will miss out on the chance to qualify for the elite competition and gain valuable experience in the run-up to the Olympics.
"This is a huge blow for China. They have been invited to our tournament in previous years and must have felt they would be given a berth automatically. But this is not the case now with all teams in Asia having to qualify for the Hong Kong Sevens," said Trevor Gregory, Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman.
Hong Kong, winners of the Mumbai Sevens, automatically qualify for the core-team event at the Hong Kong Sevens as well as the London Sevens, the final leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series, which doubles as the qualifying competition to unearth three core teams for the 2013 series.
Rugby sevens will be an Olympic medal sport at Rio 2016 for the first time and China has embarked on a comprehensive sevens programme, which now reaches across 11 provinces.
China entered the Mumbai Sevens ranked third overall in the series and had to finish in that position to ensure their berth at the Hong Kong Sevens. But China slipped to a shock loss to Sri Lanka in the pool competition and finished fifth.
"In the past we had a say on who was invited for the Hong Kong Sevens. But now this is in the hands of the International Rugby Board as we are part of the world series," Gregory said.
Expanded from 24 to 28 teams, the Hong Kong Sevens will comprise two tournaments. The top-tier competition will include the 15 core teams who play in all nine legs of the world series, plus Hong Kong. The second-tier event, a pre-qualification for those aspiring to become core teams, features 12 teams, two from each region - Asia (Japan and Taiwan), Europe, Africa, Oceania, North America and the Caribbean and South America.
"China will be disappointed to miss out on this opportunity," said Gregory, who is also the vice-president of the Asian Rugby Football Union. "I spoke to Johnny Zhang [China coach] and he said the mainland had to field an under-strength team in Mumbai as the PLA refused to release its top players."
It is believed that the PLA doesn't release its players for overseas tournaments. China were at full strength only at the Shanghai Sevens, where they lost to Hong Kong in the final.
"Maybe missing out on the Hong Kong Sevens after all these years will open up their eyes. Hopefully the government can intervene in the future and get the army to release its players for all the legs of the series, which has become very important as Hong Kong invites are based on how you finish there," Gregory added.