Nervous wait for decision on sevens joining Sports Institute
Despite Hong Kong’s scintillating performance at the Sevens, coach Dai Rees remains anxious
Hong Kong's ground-breaking performance at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens would have "raised a few eyebrows", coach Dai Rees said.
But what he is really hoping for is that it would have also opened the eyes of the people who will decide if the rugby sevens should become a part of the Sports Institute from next Monday.
The government's Sports Commission appears to be waiting until the 11th hour before making a final decision on whether the popular sport joins the elite training academy despite it having ticked all the boxes for inclusion.
"Hong Kong surpassed all expectations [at the Sevens]. I hope the people in the box who have the fate of our sport in their hands would have sat up and taken notice," Rees said.
The Rowan Varty-led team turned in an astonishing performance when they toppled HSBC World Sevens Series heavyweights Argentina 7-5 in the Bowl quarter-finals and followed that with another remarkable victory over the United States, 20-12, in the semi-finals. Hong Kong then lost to England, but it was the first time they had reached a final in a world series event.
And in the VIP stands was Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing, who is also the chairman of the 21-strong Sports Commission, the final arbiter in the lengthy decision-making process on which sports to include in the elite programme for the 2013-17 funding cycle.
With millions of dollars at stake - it is believed that if successful, rugby sevens will get annual funding in the region of HK$4 million to HK$5 million - there is an air of anticipation in the corridors of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union.
"We should be okay. This is the indication I have received from people in the know," said HKRFU president Brian Stevenson, who is also a vice-president of the Hong Kong Olympic Committee and chairman of the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
Any doubts about sevens' place at the Sports Institute should have been laid to rest by the team's sizzling performance, but Rees still appeared anxious.
"It is a waiting game right now and we are hopeful a decision can be made soon. April 1, when the new funding cycle at the Sports Institute commences, is just a few days away," Rees said.
"The way Cado Lee, Kwok Ka-chun, Rowan Varty and Salom Yiu Kam-shing played [at the weekend] was tremendous. While Rowan has been around for a long time, it has taken at least two years to bring on the likes of Cado and my task will be made easier if we have the backing of the Sports Institute.
"Our performance will have raised eyebrows outside Hong Kong. We are now the only team from Asia who will be bidding to become a core team [on the world series]. And we are doing this with a small player base. If we get into the Sports Institute, we can build on this success."