Glasgow snub ‘will make Fiji stronger’
Coach Ben Ryan says dispute over his team’s participation at this year’s Commonwealth Games will give them added motivation in Hong Kong
A row over Fiji's participation at this year's Glasgow Commonwealth Games may lead to a boycott, but it will not derail their plans of winning this weekend's HSBC/Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sevens title for a third year in a row.
Fiji sevens coach Ben Ryan and legendary player Waisale Serevi said the Commonwealth Games dispute would only motivate the champions to perform even better in Hong Kong and help them claim their ultimate goal of winning a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Fiji on Tuesday threatened to boycott the Glasgow Games from July 23 to August 3 after being told their mercurial sevens side would not be eligible to compete.
Earlier this month, Fiji were readmitted to the Games fold, ending years of isolation following a 2006 military coup. The return though was only approved after the draw for the Glasgow sevens tournament was completed, with the qualification rules making no provision for late entries.
At a training session on Tuesday at La Salle College in Kowloon, Ryan and Serevi were adamant the political shenanigans would have no bearing on the team or how they played in the future.
"There's no doubt we'd have a very realistic gold medal chance in Glasgow, but not playing isn't that big a disappointment. It gives us added motivation to do well in Hong Kong," Ryan, 42, said.
"What's more important is getting Olympic qualification so it gives us a chance to have a good preseason instead."
The Pacific Islanders won Commonwealth silver in 1998 and 2002 and claimed bronze in Melbourne in 2006. Fiji Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee president Reg Sanday said Fiji missing from the sevens at the Commonwealth Games was like Jamaica running at the Games without world champion Usain Bolt.
But Ryan, who took over as Fiji's coach last September after more than six years in charge of the England sevens team, said the players and team management had long since accepted they wouldn't be playing in Glasgow. It had only been in the last few weeks that they had been given a glimmer of hope as Fiji were readmitted into the Commonwealth family.
"The boys never thought they'd be going to Glasgow and have not competed in the event since 2006," Ryan said.
"If we'd always thought we'd be competing, and then it was taken away, it'd be very different. But that is not the case."
Serevi agreed with Ryan and also preferred to focus on the bigger picture.
"It's very disappointing not to be able to play in Glasgow, but the good thing is that our country has been welcomed back to compete in the Commonwealth Games after all the things that have happened in Fiji," Serevi said. "Doing well here in Hong Kong and at the Rio Olympic Games is more important."
The top four teams in the Sevens World Series next year will get automatic promotion to the 2016 Rio Olympics and that is Ryan's biggest priority.
"I think everybody in Fiji would forgive me if we lost every game over the next two years, including the Commonwealth Games, but won an Olympic gold medal in Rio. I've been employed to get the Fiji team on the top podium in the Olympics. That's the main goal," he said.
Surprisingly, Fiji have never won back-to-back international tournaments in a season. This could be their best chance to rectify that as they won the sixth leg of the IRB Sevens World Series in Tokyo last weekend, beating South Africa 33-26 in a breathtaking Cup final. Hong Kong is their spiritual home and they are the most successful team here with 14 Cup wins (including two World Cup titles in 1997 and 2005).
"Hong Kong's a place where we've had great success and will have the best chance to get back-to-back wins, but it won't be easy," Ryan said.
South Africa overhauled New Zealand on the World Series ladder and lead by two points, 116 to 114. Fiji are third on 95.