HSBC pulls sponsorship from Asian Five Nations and Asian Sevens Series
HSBC has pulled its title sponsorship from Asia's pre-eminent rugby competitions – the Asian Five Nations and Asian Sevens Series – forcing the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) to downsize the top-flight A5N division from next year.
ARFU president Trevor Gregory admits that HSBC's withdrawal is a "blow", but he insists the regional governing body is financially strong enough to continue to support the game in Asia.
"Of course HSBC pulling out is a blow, but we will be eternally grateful to them as without their presence Asian rugby would not be where it is now – very healthy with 28 countries playing and four more wanting to join," Gregory said as the first round of A5N Top Five games kicked off on Saturday.
After backing Asia's premier 15s event since 2008 and the Asian Sevens Series since 2011, HSBC has withdrawn its multi-million dollar sponsorship estimated at between US$1 million and US$2 million annually.
ARFU will streamline the tournaments with the Top Five - which this year is also the Asian qualifiers for the 2015 World Cup – being turned into a Top Three next year.
"It is very sad they have had to withdraw but this is simply due to their business model changing. But thanks to their support, as well as the IRB, we are in a position where we have some funds available to continue the good work," Gregory said.
In a statement, the bank said: "HSBC is extremely proud of the contribution it has made in helping grow both events and supporting the development of Asian rugby over the past few years."
It is believed uncertainty over HSBC's involvement with the IRB Sevens World Series played a part in the bank pulling out of Asia. Next year will be the bank's last year as title sponsors of the World Series under the current agreement.
Gregory said ARFU was looking at other opportunities but so far no one has come forward.