Youth Olympics place should be given to Hong Kong, say officials
Senior officials back city to represent Asia at the Games in Nanjing in 2014 instead of Japan
Hong Kong, and not Japan, should represent Asia when rugby sevens makes its mini-Olympic debut at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing next year, said a top official of the Hong Kong Olympic Committee.
Pang Chung, secretary general of the Hong Kong Sports Federation and Olympic Committee, has called for Hong Kong's inclusion on the basis of the gold medal performance of the boys under-17 team at last month's Asian Youth Games.
"We have written to the IRB asking them if Hong Kong, as winners of the inaugural rugby sevens competition at the Asian Youth Games, can represent Asia at the Youth Olympics next year," said Pang.
"We were very impressed with the Hong Kong boys team. They proved on the field that they deserve to be at the Youth Olympics and I hope the IRB can revisit its decision to award the spot to Japan."
Only six places are up for grabs when rugby sevens makes its debut at the Youth Olympic Games. The IRB decided that the highest-ranked teams from each region at the World Cup in Moscow would win a spot; Japan finished above Hong Kong and is thus Asia's representative.
But Pang argues that the World Cup was a senior competition, unlike the Asian Youth Games, and the fact Hong Kong finished above Japan in the youth tournament is more relevant.
"It is more justified for the Hong Kong youth rugby team to be invited to Nanjing next year, instead of counting on the top rank of the men's team at the World Cup when you have a genuine youth champion team that stand good for Asia," Pang added.
Each national Olympic Committee can only send one team sport and it is unclear if Japan will send its soccer team, in which case Hong Kong will be able to take the rugby slot.
Brian Stevenson, the president of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, backed Pang.
"Unlike other regions, Asia has a Youth Games and Hong Kong has proved itself. It would be good if the IRB can take another look at the invitation process, at least as far as Asia is concerned," he said.
Stevenson was a spectator in Nanjing when Hong Kong came back from a 12-0 deficit to defeat Japan 19-12 in the semi-finals. They then went on to beat Thailand 31-12 in the gold medal final.
"It was an amazing result. They came back strongly in the second half and with the Nanjing crowd firmly behind them, Hong Kong scored three tries to take the lead. But what was most impressive was that the boys defended this lead with two minutes remaining. It was a magnificent performance and I hope our boys get the chance to play at the Youth Olympics next year," Stevenson said.
The Nanjing Games will be the second edition of the Youth Olympics. It is for under-18s which means the under-17 team that won the Asian Youth Games will be eligible.