• Thu
  • Dec 25, 2014
  • Updated: 5:10am
Column
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 May, 2014, 11:16pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 May, 2014, 11:48pm

Goldilocks test still the best when it comes to qualifying

Rugby bosses have it just right in determining the length of residency required to be eligible for international competition

BIO

Alvin Sallay, a Sunday columnist with the paper for more than 10 years, has been reporting on the Hong Kong sports scene for the last 25 years. Through his columns he has covered four Olympic Games and one soccer World Cup. A long-time Asian expert, he has also been to seven consecutive Asian Games.
 

A sigh of relief will have swept through the offices of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union last week when the sport's world governing body announced it had no plans to tighten up residency qualifications for players wishing to represent a country other than that of their birth.

The International Rugby Board's three-year residency law will stay - and that is good. Unlike in some other major team sports, rugby union has got it right.

In cricket, the residency requirement is four years, which is too long. Fifa, soccer's world governing body extended their residency ruling from two years (too short) to five years (much too long).

Shouldn't the IOC leave it to the individual federations to set the rules and abide by those?
Alvin Sallay

Three years falls in line with the Goldilocks equation of being not too hot and not too cold.

In this global village we live in, if you wish to represent another country, you should fulfil a certain time frame which, while forbidding anyone from just rocking up and donning a new shirt, should also not be too punitive in that it will rob players of their best years.

Hong Kong is a special case. People come here mainly for employment. Sport is secondary.

Before the IRB introduced its "regulation 8" in 2000, we had many instances of players arriving and within weeks, if not days, representing Hong Kong at international level.

Those with long memories will remember Dan Daly, the British Forces soldier, who was drafted into the sevens team just a few days after he was posted to the colony in 1987.

He made a big impact at the Hong Kong Sevens and was named Best-and-Fairest Player.

We also had many players from the southern hemisphere turn up as Hong Kong looked to compete in the Pac Rim competition against the United States, Canada and Japan around the same time.

We used to beat Japan regularly and even posted wins against the US and Canada. They were heady days.

All that changed in 2000 with "regulation 8" which brought in the three-year residency rule.

There have been calls, particularly from the Pacific Islands, to tighten these rules as players were being lost to bigger nations. It is well known that Fiji, Samoa and Tonga have rich talent reservoirs.

But the IRB has withstood those demands.

Chief executive Brett Gosper said: "There are huge market forces in play in both hemispheres, and players have got to be able to ply their trade where they want to ply their trade."

It might look mercenary and mercantile, but as long as there is a sufficient transition period - and three years is the magic baby bear number - players should not be prevented from capitalising on their abilities.

Hong Kong has benefited immensely, but even the IRB's ruling does not hold sway when it comes to the Olympics, where only passports count.

Even if you are born here or have lived here seven years and have a permanent ID card, it counts for little when it comes to the Olympic Games, and now the Asian Games.

There have been many instances of athletes being barred from the Olympics and Asian Games because they don't have an SAR passport.

Even those born in Hong Kong who do not hold this document are locked out of the national squads. Cycling was the latest sport to be hit. Cricket and rugby have similar problems.

It is absurd to think you can take part in the World Cup of your sport - rugby, for instance, if Hong Kong qualify - but you can't take part in the Olympic in sevens simply because you don't have a passport.

Shouldn't the IOC leave it to the individual federations to set the rules and abide by those? In rugby, that would be the three-year eligibility rule.

The IOC has gone down the passport-only road because it wants to standardise the rules across its spectrum of 28 medal sports (Summer Games).

But Hong Kong is a unique place and they should give us some leeway; our officials should fight for this by citing the permanent ID card as sufficient residency proof.

To get an SAR passport, you have to become a Chinese citizen and renounce your original nationality.

How many people are willing to burn bridges that way? Why can the IOC not accept the permanent ID card as proof of strong links to the city?

The IRB has done well and recognised the cross-pollinated world we live in. The IOC has not done that and wants passports.

But that does not mean the system will not be abused. What's to prevent certain countries from handing passports over the counter to attract eligible athletes?

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