Winning 2015 Asian series best route to Olympics, says Dai Rees
Hong Kong performance chief sets sights on regional title to secure automatic qualification for Rio 2016
Victory in the Asian Sevens Series next year will be vital as Hong Kong try to guarantee a place in the 2016 Olympics when the sport makes its Games debut, says performance chief Dai Rees.
Only 12 places are available in both the men's and women's competitions and hosts Brazil will get automatic spots in both, the International Rugby Board has announced.
The remaining 11 berths will be filled by the top four nations from next season's HSBC Sevens World Series, one nation from each of the six IRB regional competitions, and one from a world play-off.
"Our best route obviously would be to win the Asian Sevens Series next year," said Rees, the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's head of technical development and performance. "To make it through the world repechage will be tougher, with the likelihood that a number of core teams from the World Series will be taking part in the competition."
Hong Kong won the Asian Sevens Series in 2012, but perennial rivals Japan knocked them off the top perch last year. This year's series will start in September and is likely to be held over four legs.
"Things are still a bit unclear as to how many teams from each region will go into the world repechage. It could be one if it is a six-team competition or two if it is a 12-team competition, which would make more sense," Rees said.
"But whatever the format, this competition will be tough, with every chance that we could see teams like Australia, Samoa, France, even Kenya vying for that one berth."
Newly appointed Asian Rugby Football Union president Trevor Gregory said: "We are leaning towards having a 12-team competition so that two teams from Asia – the second and third-placed sides next season – can be in the running for that final spot. As for the champions, we would prefer it to be the overall winner of the series rather than the winner of a one-off tournament."
Last year's Rugby World Cup Sevens representatives from Asia – Japan and Hong Kong – were decided at a one-off tournament, the Singapore Sevens, rather than via the Asian Sevens Series. But the World Cup was a 24-team tournament, double the size of the Olympic rugby competition.
"It would be better if the winner was decided over three legs rather than one tournament, as it's too unpredictable and an Olympic dream could be crushed by one bad refereeing decision, for instance," Gregory said.
If the cut-off was done on the current men's World Series standings, South Africa, New Zealand and Fiji would qualify automatically; England are in fourth place, but it is not yet clear if that would mean an automatic slot for a combined Great Britain team with Scotland and Wales.
Teams such as Australia and Samoa would have to fight it out either through regional qualification or the world play-off. In Europe, core teams such as France, Portugal and Spain would be in the running.
But Asia, too, will not be a cakewalk, with all the countries likely to step up their respective games with the Olympics in mind. Apart from Japan, Hong Kong will face tough challenges from South Korea, China and Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, the decision to hand an automatic berth to Brazil was defended by IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset. "Including Brazil is good for rugby, good for Brazil and good for the Games," he said.