Asian champions Hong Kong are in with a realistic chance of making an Olympic appearance in rugby sevens two years before the sport makes its first appearance at the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, after the International Olympic Committee included it in the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing next summer.
Only six teams will take part and the International Rugby Board has decided that these places will be finalised at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow in June; the highest-placed team from each region will qualify for Nanjing.
"Our goal was always to finish as the top-placed team in Asia. But this has now given us extra motivation," said Dai Rees, Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's head of performance. "The fact that instead of a qualifying process, the best-placed teams from each region at the World Cup will be offered the opportunity to play in Nanjing adds more spice to Moscow."
Hong Kong (winners of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series last season), Japan and the Philippines qualified to represent Asia at the 24-team World Cup.
The IOC will use the Nanjing Games as a dress rehearsal for sevens' entry into the senior event in 2016. Boys' and girls' under-18 competitions will be staged, with the same qualifying process for the women. Hong Kong's women's team did not qualify for the World Cup though, so are ineligible for Nanjing.
"What will happen is that once the best-placed teams from each region at the World Cup are decided, that region's rugby governing body, which in our case is the Asian Rugby Football Union, will write to the respective local Olympic committee inviting them to send the team to the Youth Olympic Games," Rees (pictured) said.
"It will be up to the Olympic authorities in each of those countries to decide. They could say we have a stronger football team or basketball team and will be sending them instead of the rugby team, in which case the next best team from the region at the World Cup Sevens will then be offered a place. But if we finish as Asia's best team in Moscow, I'm confident the Hong Kong Olympic Committee will accept us for I believe we are the strongest team sport in town," Rees added.
IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset welcomed the IOC's decision to include sevens in Nanjing and said it was another huge boost for the development of the sport in Asia.
Hong Kong's under-18 boys will take part in two major tournaments this year - the Youth Asian Games in Nanjing in July and August, and the inaugural Asian Schools Sevens Championship, from July 19-23 in Hong Kong.