Japan pull out of Shanghai Rugby Sevens due to safety concerns
Safety of their players could not be guaranteed amid the political row between Beijing and Tokyo, Asian Rugby Football Union says
Japan have withdrawn from the Shanghai Sevens this weekend after the Asian Rugby Football Union could not ensure the safety of the players amid heightened political tensions between Beijing and Tokyo.
The purchase of the Diaoyu Islands by Japan has led to a wave of nationalist protests across mainland cities. This has resulted in the Japan Rugby Football Union withdrawing its national team from the second leg of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series due to kick-off in Shanghai tomorrow.
"Japan have reluctantly decided to withdraw. They said they would come if we could guarantee the safety of their players but we couldn't do that," said Trevor Gregory, vice-president of the Asian Rugby Football Union, yesterday.
"Our overriding concern is the safety and security of the players and with this in mind we told Japan that it was best they didn't turn up. Their presence might have also compromised the safe running of the tournament," said Gregory, who is also the chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union.
Asian rugby officials had tried their best to get assurances from Chinese security officials that the Japanese team would be safe but had failed. It is believed Security Bureau officials in Shanghai had said they could not guarantee the safety of the players and that if Japan turned up, the tournament could be cancelled, or played behind closed doors.
"Due to all this uncertainty, we decided the best option would be to advise Japan to stay away. But they were worried that by staying away, their chances of winning the Asian Sevens Series would be lost and we had to assure them they would not be penalised," Gregory said.
Added significance has been placed on the Asian Sevens Series after the International Rugby Board announced this week that the champions would automatically book a place in the main Cup competition at the season-ending HSBC Sevens World Series in London, plus the fact that the top three teams in Asia get berths at the Hong Kong Sevens.
In addition, the final standings following the penultimate event in Mumbai will determine the tournament seedings for the fourth and final leg of the Asian Sevens Series in Singapore. This tournament, while non-ranking, is doubling as the Asian qualifier for the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013. Three Asian teams will qualify for the World Cup Sevens in Moscow next June.
"We have now decided that as this pull-out is due to no fault of theirs, Japan will be allocated an aggregate of the points they win over the two legs they play in - Borneo Sevens and Mumbai Sevens. This means that a team will still have to defeat them in Mumbai next month to be crowned Asian champions," Gregory said.
Japan defeated Hong Kong to be crowned Borneo Sevens champions last month. This earned them 16 points. If they repeat in Mumbai next month, they will have a total of 32 points, of which the average - 16 - will be allocated as their points tally for Shanghai, giving them an unsurpassable 48 points.
Kazakhstan also pulled out, but due to visa issues, forcing organisers to rejig the format of the competition from four groups of three to two groups of five.
Hong Kong, the second seeds, now find themselves in the company of South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka and Singapore. The other group is China, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand.
The top two from each pool advance to the knockout stages on Sunday.