Sevens World Series relegation system branded ‘unfair’
Hong Kong coach Dai Rees says it’s hard for aspirants to compete against three teams who enjoyed a season of top-grade rugby
A number of countries aspiring to become core teams of the HSBC Sevens World Series have declared the current "relegation" system unfair and called on the International Rugby Board to fix it if it wants the abbreviated game to become "universal".
"Those teams which are relegated at the end of this season should have to wait a year before getting the chance to compete on the World Series again. This is the system we would prefer," said Jamaica coach Conroy O'Malley.
His views were echoed by nearly half of the countries taking part in the 12-team pre-qualifying competition - the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens which gets under way tomorrow.
Under existing rules, the three teams at the bottom of the world standings after the Scotland leg in May are relegated. But they will find themselves in the eight-team qualifying tournament at the next and last leg in London with the chance to requalify straight away. The other five teams will be the top four from the pre-qualification tournament this weekend plus the Asian sevens champions, Hong Kong, who have earned automatic entry.
"If the IRB wants sevens to be universal, it needs integration of emerging teams from all continents. The World Series needs renewal each year and relegated teams should have to work hard. They must fight for promotion after missing out one season," said Tunisian coach Mohamed Sahraoui.
Taiwan coach Chang Wei-cheng said: "It sounds fairer if those relegated teams miss one season and fight for promotion next time." He was echoing the fear among the aspirants of coming face to face with battle-hardened teams who would have the advantage of having played one whole season behind them.
Cook Islands coach Ramsey Tomokino added: "I would like the core teams in the series to change from year to year and my preference would be for the top three teams to go up and the bottom three teams to go down."
The IRB said yesterday that it would look at ways to modify the existing rules, but insisted that the present system was the best available right now.
"This will not necessarily stay this way, but we had to start somewhere and create a pathway," said Beth Coalter, the IRB Sevens manager.
This is the first season where a relegation system is in place. Last year, the Hong Kong Sevens was the vehicle to unearth three new core teams - Canada, Spain and Portugal. Canada is ranked 10th among the 15 core teams while Spain and Portugal are in the relegation zone
Coalter said: "In the future, we might look at having a smaller World Series second division, so as to create a platform for promotion-relegation between the two divisions."
Hong Kong rugby's head of performance and national coach Dai Rees agreed that it would be hard for new aspirants to compete against the three teams who had enjoyed a season of top-grade rugby.
"But if I was a core team, and if I had a programme in place, it would be difficult to put that on hold because of the failure of relegation.
"Countries these days get funding because of the Olympics, and being in the World Series is a factor and pathway to developing your team for the Olympics. What happens if once you are relegated that funding dries up?
"It will disrupt the entire programme. But as a coach, and being out of the World Series right now, I feel it is an advantage for those three countries which will be relegated to play right away in the qualifiers," Rees added.
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